Schools get $1M for special ed in Eagle County |

Schools get $1M for special ed in Eagle County

Lauren Glendenning
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado –Eagle County schools are waiting for the 2009-10 school year to start before officials decide how to spend $1 million in federal stimulus money.

The money is part of the state’s $1 billion portion of new education funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The school district must use the $1 million for special education – it can’t reallocate money already slated for special education now that it has the new funds, said Brooke Skjonsby, Eagle County Schools spokeswoman.

The money is the equivalent of hiring eight full-time teaching positions for two years, which could mean 16 part-time positions or some combination of full and part-time, she said. The $1 million has to be allocated by September 2011.

The two priorities for the education stimulus money were special education and the Title One program, which focuses on academic achievement for all students regardless of their financial status, said Bruce Caughey, of the Colorado Association of School Executives.

Under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal government made a commitment to fund 40 percent of the annual cost of special education services for every identified student – the feds are only actually paying 21 percent, though, he said.

The state also committed to pay 30 percent of the annual cost of special education through its Exceptional Children’s Education Act in 1975 – it’s actually paying about 17 percent, leaving Colorado school districts to cover 62 percent of the costs of special education, he said.

School districts across the country generally pay about 32 percent, he said.

While the education community can’t seem to agree on the level of funding contributions from each source, it does seem to agree that the top federal funding priorities are these two programs, Caughey.

Special education in Eagle County schools accounts for about 10 percent of the district’s annual budget, but when enrollment continues to increase, that 10 percent equals more and more money.

For the 2008-09 school year, special education funding totaled about $3,330,000. Teacher salaries accounted for about $2.5 million, benefits were $630,000 and materials and supplies were $200,000.

The school district is budgeting for a reduction in students next year because of the economy, but Superintendent Sandra Smyser said at a recent board meeting the district still has hope for higher enrollment numbers in 2009-10.

The district’s funding is based on the number of students enrolled on Oct. 1 – so a higher enrollment is good for revenue, but it also means costs are higher.

“It has been a struggle for all school districts to meet the needs of each individual student,” Skjonsby said, via e-mail. “This short-term additional funding will allow us to better meet these individual needs.”

A program called Early Child Find tries to identify special education students as early as possible – but the earlier they’re identified, the earlier funding is needed, she said.

There’s a team of people – including parents, teachers and other school staff – who help figure out what each students needs in school.

The federal stimulus money for special education runs out in about two years, but the school district would likely continue to fund the positions the money helped create if the federal government doesn’t provide more money.

The students requiring special services would still be here and enrollment will have likely increased, Skjonsby said.

Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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