Gov. Laura Kelly announces plan to fully fund Kansas special education for the first time in years

In an overview of the 2024 fiscal budget, government officials announced a five-year plan to increase special education funding

By: - January 12, 2023 5:42 pm
Special education funding advocate Leah Fliter said she was optimistic about the governor's funding plan. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Special education funding advocate Leah Fliter said she was optimistic about Gov. Laura Kelly’s funding plan. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — After years of school districts shouldering the burden for special education costs, the governor announced a five-year plan to fully fund special education across the state.

Adam Proffitt, Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget director, explained the particulars of her plans for fiscal year 2024 during a Thursday meeting.

Under the plan, $72.4 million will be added every year for the next five years to special education funding, with the goal of meeting funding requirements by financial year 2028. Kansas law requires the state to provide 92% of the extra costs of special education, but the Legislature hasn’t met the requirement since 2011. 

The current level of funding sits around 71% statewide, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards, and districts have had to divert funds from general education programs to pay for special education costs. 

Advocates have been pushing for the extra funding for years, holding a November news conference urging the Legislature to fund more services. 

Proffitt said one benefit of the five-year plan was that it would allow the state to use federal money.

“It also allows us time to work with the federal government to try to increase their share of special education costs,” Proffitt said during the meeting.

Sen. Renee Erickson questions special education budget provisions during a Jan. 12 hearing of the governor's budget. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
Sen. Renee Erickson questions special education budget provisions during a Jan. 12 hearing of the governor’s budget. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Leah Fliter, KASB assistant executive director of advocacy, said the organization is glad Kelly addressed the funding issue. 

“We’re very pleased with that proposal,” Fliter said. “Some people would love to have all of it right now, because the need is so great, but there’s a recognition that phasing it in over five years is easier on the state and probably more palatable to the state legislature.” 

Some lawmakers expressed reservations about the plan, including Republican Rep. Kristey Williams of Augusta and Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, both of whom questioned Proffitt on potentially unequal funding costs in school districts and other sources of special education funding.

Erickson said she wanted Kansas students to have access to all  the resources they needed, but felt more research needed to be done on the issue. 

“I’m just trying to make sure we are maximizing the dollars, not just putting more money into a system that maybe doesn’t have some guidelines that we can really understand how this is being used, and are we meeting the 92% or not,” Erickson said in an interview after the meeting. 

K-12 education makes up about $6.4 billion of the state’s roughly $22 billion budget. Top GOP lawmakers have expressed reluctance to fund public education in the past, saying the federal government in particular should step up in terms of special education funding. 

The budget plan also provides money for higher education institutions, investing almost $110 million for universities to provide more financial aid, lower student tuition, and fund medical tools with the goal of preventing fatal opioid overdoses.

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.