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After 10 years without an increase, lawmakers aim to boost special education funding

MADISON (WKOW) — Could this be the year Wisconsin lawmakers increase funding for special education? Some school administrators believe so.

It’s been 10 years since lawmakers increased K-12 special education funds. Now, the costs are rising and districts are facing tough choices about how to spend their money.

The Director of Student Services at Middleton-Cross Plains School District says she’s been waiting for years to finally see lawmakers make special education a top priority.

“I would say it’s about time, I think that I wouldn’t be alone in thanking Governor Evers for bringing attention to a much-needed area of concern,” said Barb Buffington.

Governor Evers proposed a $606 million increase for special education, but on Wednesday Republicans introduced far less. Assembly Republicans announced a $50 million increase, but still an increase Buffington says is better than none.

School districts are required by state and federal law to provide special education services to students who need them. Wisconsin provides reimbursements for a portion of the cost for educating and transporting students with specials needs. However, Buffington argues the reimbursement rate, about 29 percent in 2008-2009, has fallen to 24.5 percent this school year.

“Whether it be a special computer, a special device to help them walk, anything — we have to provide that equipment and we have to pay for it,” said Buffington. “If we could get that increase in our state budget and in our state and federal dollars, then we could use our local dollars to do some of the other things that have been neglected in education as well.”

Without an increase the past decade, schools like Middletown-Cross Plains are using their money for school security or more buses, all things they need, but special education services and special education students continue to suffer, says Buffington.

“It’s my job to advocate for students with disabilities, it’s been over a decade for an increase, give us some money and give us some help.”

While lawmakers continue to debate how much schools will receive in the next state budget, Buffington says the longer it takes, the longer school district needs are pushed back.

GOP leaders introduced a $500 million increase overall for K-12 education but, it’s not final as Governor Evers can veto the Republican spending plan.

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Emilee Fannon

Capital Bureau Chief

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