by Benjamin Herold, for WHYY/NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
When Pennsylvania House Republicans were unable to muster the necessary votes Wednesday night to pass a controversial package of charter school reforms, an unrelated attempt to fix special education funding ended up as collateral damage.
For years, disability rights advocates like Maureen Cronin, the executive director of the ARC of Pennsylvania, have been pushing to make the state's special education funding system more fair. The current system sets a single per-pupil payment for all special needs children and assumes that every district in the state serves 16 percent special education students. Advocates want school districts to be paid for the actual number of special needs students they serve, based on the types of disabilities those children have.
"It's extraordinarily important to us because children all across Pennsylvania are not receiving the special education services they need, and a good deal of the reason is the funding distribution," Cronin said.
A proposal to establish a commission charged with fixing the problem had broad bipartisan support and was approved by the state Senate last spring. But House Republicans tied a package of controversial charter school reforms to the special education funding bill at the last minute, leading to its demise. When the bill was reintroduced during the most recent legislative session, some of the more controversial charter-related provisions had been stripped, leading many to expect its passage.
But some House members got cold feet Wednesday. When they pulled the plug on the charter school changes, special educaton funding reform died, too.
"We were devastated," Cronin said. "We've put so much into it already, it's just hard to even imagine what could happen next."
Advocates say they hope special education funding reform will be considered on its own merits by the legislature early next year.