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Pa. Officials Move To Resolve Dispute Over Spec.-Ed. Payments to Districts

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Pennsylvania lawmakers and state officials moved quickly last week to try to resolve a dispute that has delayed payment of $300 million in state special-education funds to school districts.

The issue arose last year over a proposal to fine tune the state's revamped formula for special-education funding. Unable to agree on how to change the formula, the legislature extended it until Dec. 31 of last year.

After 1992 ended with no new funding mechanism in place, however, the state education department said it had no authority to release $300 million of the $543 million in state funds allocated for those programs.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association took the matter to court last month, filing a lawsuit Jan. 21 in Commonwealth Court asking for the release of $150 million in funds. That is the amount school districts would have received as last month's payment under the previous formula.

Last week, the state and the school boards group agreed on a settlement to the lawsuit. Under the terms of the court-approved agreement, the department will pay out $88 million of the sequestered funds within the next few weeks.

That figure represents the amount districts would have received last month if the legislature had approved a formula change recommended last year by Gov. Robert P. Casey, according to a spokesman for the department.

Learner Outcomes Attacked

The Senate, meanwhile, voted last week to extend the old formula, with some modifications, until the fiscal year ends in June.

The measure was approved after rejection of a Republican-sponsored amendment that would have struck down a set of learner outcomes for students approved by the state board of education last month. The new outcomes, which all students must meet in order to graduate from high school, have generated opposition from some parents. (See Education Week, Jan. 20, 1993.)

Looking to avoid a similar confrontation, the House the next day voted to postpone action on the funding measure until March 15. Lawmakers said the delay would give them time to first review new state regulations for learner outcomes.

The state's special-education funding formula has been a source of controversy since its overhaul in 1990. It provides districts funds based on fixed percentages of a district's total pupil enrollment.

The intent of that change was to remove incentives for schools to identify large numbers of students as disabled. But districts complain that their allocations under the new formula bear no relation to actual costs or the number of disabled children served.

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