Glendale Unified seeks funding help

Glendale Unified officials are calling on state and federal officials to help cover the cost of serving thousands of special-education students, which in the past three years alone has drained nearly $45 million from the district's General Fund.

The federal government may commit to funding up to 40% of a school district's cost for special-education programs, but in Glendale, officials say they've never received more than 20% — and the costs keep going up.

“It is an extraordinary financial burden for the school districts to bear,” school board member Mary Boger said.

For the 2011-12 school year, Glendale Unified spent $19.7 million on services for about 2,600 special-education students, the district reported. That was up from $14.2 million in 2010-11 and $11 million in 2009-10.

But while the costs for special education have been increasing, money from the state and federal governments has remained flat, district officials say, prompting Glendale Unified to draft a resolution calling for more financial help.

“We have the very real growth and the expense of the care and the programs,” said school board member Joylene Wagner. “Districts all over the state are being asked to cover these costs that were to have been covered in a much larger part by the federal government.”

When the government distributes funds for special education, it delivers them to the Foothill Special Education Local Area Plan, also known as Selpa — a network serving 4,600 special-education students in Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada school districts.

The money is then divided among the three districts.

The Foothill Selpa can currently divide roughly $8.37 million among the three districts — $11.8 million short of what could be divided if fully funded by the federal government at 40%.

“If for none other than to help people understand that this is one of the many struggles we have in our funding issues, I think this [resolution] is extremely important,” said school board President Christine Walters.

Boger agreed.

“It is right and appropriate that these children receive each and every service that will allow them to advance and to reach their fullest potential, but when the federal government mandates that you do something, they should put their money where their mouth is,” she said.

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