Special Education

Mich. Sued 3rd Time Over Spec. Ed. Funds

By Lisa Fine — December 06, 2000 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Michigan’s system of financing special education is once again the subject of litigation.

In a lawsuit filed against the state last month, 366 school districts claim that the state government does not pay as much as it should to cover the cost of educating students with disabilities.

The suit, filed Nov. 15 in the Michigan Court of Appeals, marks the third time the state has been sued by districts over special education funding since 1978, when Michigan voters approved the “Headlee Amendment,” a ballot measure that amended the state constitution to require that the state fully fund the programs it mandates.

The state isn’t fully paying for special education services it requires, including transportation and instructional personnel costs, creating a shortfall of $460 million a year, the new lawsuit maintains.

The districts contend that they have to make up the difference by using money from their general education budgets.

Long History

Two decades ago, the first suit was filed by Donald Durant, a former president of the Fitzgerald, Mich., school board who became a special education advocate on behalf of his deaf son. The suit claimed the state was violating the Headlee Amendment by paying a lower percentage of special education costs than it should.

In 1997, the Durant case was settled for $840 million. Districts used the money to build auditoriums, buy computers, and fix roofs, projects that local school officials said they had forgone because of the need to pay for state-mandated special education services.

Then, the next year, a group of 264 districts took the state back to court, saying special education was underfunded by $375 million a year. In the Durant II case, as it came to be known, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state had violated the state constitution by shifting general per-pupil education funds to pay for special education in the 1997-98 school year.

The court said the state should have instead added more money for special education on top of that per-student amount. Under a ballot measure that Michigan voters approved in 1994, a certain amount of general per-pupil funding is guaranteed, with special education costs to be met through additional funds.

Suit Called ‘Nuisance’

Dennis Pollard, a lawyer for the school districts, said the latest lawsuit was filed to stop the state from using a formula that still shortchanges districts.

Mr. Pollard contends that the state gives districts money from a general school fund, rather than providing a separate fund earmarked for special education, as he argues it should.

“The state has ignored the constitution for 22 years,” Mr. Pollard said last week. “The court orders the state to pay for special education funds, and the state finds different formulas to avoid it.”

A spokesman for Gov. John Engler said the state lost the Durant cases not because it neglects to provide funding for special education, but because it does not specify the purpose for which state funding should be used.

John Truscott, a spokesman for Mr. Engler, a Republican, called the lawsuit a “nuisance” and argued that it would curtail local spending autonomy.

“This is basically a refiling of the same lawsuit,” Mr. Truscott said. “They are asking us to tell them how to spend every penny. We haven’t done that as a state, because we think it is appropriate to leave those decisions up to the local level.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 06, 2000 edition of Education Week as Mich. Sued 3rd Time Over Spec. Ed. Funds

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP
Special Education 3 Reasons Why Being a Special Education Teacher Is Even Harder During the Pandemic
Special education teachers were often left to navigate the pandemic on their own, a new survey shows.
6 min read
Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J.
Paraprofessional Jessica Wein helps Josh Nazzaro answer questions from his teacher while attending class virtually from his home in Wharton, N.J.
Seth Wenig/AP
Special Education Opinion Inclusive Teachers Must Be 'Asset-Based Believers'
Four veteran educators share tips on supporting students with learning differences as they return to classrooms during this pandemic year.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty