The number of Kansas students receiving services under federal law, including those in private schools, is increasing rapidly, up 20.3 percent from 2001 to 2018.

“As these numbers have increased and the services have increased and more expensive services have increased, both state and federal funding has not stayed at the level that we expected it to be,” said Kansas Association of School Boards Vice President for Advocacy Mark Tallman. “The challenge we have right now is a growing number of needs, particularly among young students and a shortage of teachers that’s only growing worse.”

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts has publicly backed the goal of increasing federal funding from the current 16 percent to 40 percent of special education costs, but he is retiring in 2020.

“That would help, because it would provide more resources,” said Tallman. “It’s not immediately going to solve the problem. If you give districts more money for special education, most of what you spend money on is hiring teachers. If we don’t have enough teachers, that’s going to be a problem. It may allow us to kind of push up wages and other benefits and incentives to get more people to come in to special education.”

School may be the only way some families can get assistance.

“The definition of special education is a child who cannot do as well with just what you get in a regular classroom,” said Tallman. “They have a particular additional need, for a variety of reasons. Concentrating those services is what makes the cost more expensive, particularly if you may have children with emotional issues, behavioral issues, often who, by the time they get to school, have real difficulty in handling the structure of school, that takes a much different kind of teacher.”

A study released last year by the Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit found that school districts would need to hire an additional 700 special education teachers and 2,600 other licensed professionals like speech pathologists to meet “best practices” guidelines.