This is the first of a series of blog posts that takes a look at special education requirements and funding, including both state and federal funding.
Both state and federal law require school districts to provide special education services to pupils with disabilities.
Wisconsin state law has mandated special education services for pupils with disabilities since the 1973-74 school year. This predates the federal mandate for special education services, which began in 1975 with the enactment of the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHCA), the precursor to the current federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA).
Wisconsin identifies special education students and provides services in accordance with federal IDEA law. Under that law, all pupils with disabilities from the ages of 3 through 21 are entitled to receive a free and appropriate public education based on their specific individual needs. To execute this directive, public school districts and their staffs must work with parents or guardians through a team effort to develop individualized education programs (or IEPs), which are reviewed periodically, and to provide special education services to students with disabilities based on and guided by these IEPs. To the greatest extent possible, students with disabilities are to be taught side by side with other students.
Most special education services are provided by school districts, either on their own (largely through school district staff) or through cooperative arrangements with other districts, CESAs, or County Children with Disabilities Education Boards (CCDEBs).
A portion of the spending on special education services by Wisconsin school districts is funded through state and federal categorical aids; however, that portion has been steadily decreasing over time. The remainder of special education spending is funded by a combination of state aid (mostly general equalization aid) and local property tax revenues.
Up next: How the declining share of special education costs paid by state and federal funding places burdens on local districts and their regular education budgets.