Special Education Costs and the Circuit Breaker

The FY2012 available funds budget (the lowest budget option) for the Belmont schools posits a 16.7% increase in special education costs to a total of $9,186,635. See page 23 of the detailed FY2012 budget proposal for the Belmont Public Schools.  For some discussion of this increase, see page 35 of the BPS program narrative. Arlington’s special education budget is proposed at $15.7 million. Click here for detail on the Arlington’s FY 2012 school budget.

Special education is paid for from three major sources — the general funds of the town, federal special education grants (IDEA grants), and the state circuit-breaker grant. Belmont’s FY2012 budget correctly assumes the loss of $525,000 from the special federal stimulus grant for special education (the ARRA IDEA grant) that was available for FY2011 and 2010. The budget also assumes that the state circuit-breaker grant will be funded at this year’s interim 40% level, leading to an expected grant of $546,769. There is cause to hope that the grant will be returned to the 75% level. A full restoration to 75% could generate an additional approximately $480,000 in state aid.

The circuit breaker grant in a given year reimburses a school system for high instructional costs incurred in the previous year for a student’s individual education plan. So the FY12 grant will cover the costs being incurred in the present fiscal year, FY11. The grants go directly to the school system and are expendable without appropriation. The costs covered may be either in-district costs incurred in accordance with a student’s individual education plan (based on pricing standards set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) or actual tuitions associated with out-of-district placements. Transportation costs are excluded. Click here for the specific regulations governing reimbursements and here for the underlying statute.

The formula for the grant is based on the instructional costs for each individual education plan. If a plan for a child costs over 4 times the state-wide average per-pupil foundation budget, the state will reimburse a percentage of the excess. Historically, that percentage has been 75%, but in FY10 and FY11, it was reduced to approximately 40% to reflect the availability of the stimulus funds. Click here for a primer from DESE on the financing of special education. See this link for a full list of online publications from DESE on special education.

The chart below summarizes circuit-breaker claims for the town of Belmont for the last few fiscal years. This data is extracted from the DESE special education page. The Fiscal Year for each row is the year that the reimbursements were received, that is, the fiscal year after the fiscal year in which instructional costs were incurred.

NOTE: The first two columns of the data are based on the forms submitted by the town. The forms are pre-filled by DESE for the town with the names of the students who were listed on the last form. This can result in there being rows in the forms for students who are not actually still SPED students; the community then completes these rows with zeroes, but the rows remain in the headcount in the first column. Additionally, the community may submit some students that do not qualify because their costs are not high enough. The “Adjusted Claim Amount” column reflects adjustments for cost sharing and for students that do not qualify.

Students claimed Total claim Total cost share Adjusted claim amount Foundation Net Claim Special indicator reimb. Reimbursement % Total reimbursement
FY11 (prelim.) 72 4,110,085 75,666 3,801,011 2,434,068 1,366,943 40.00%546,769 546,769
FY10 75 4,312,076 80,394 3,493,356 2,053,040 1,440,316 42.34%609,857 609,857
FY09 58 3,300,862 77,603 3,173,794 1,982,848 1,190,946 72%857,481 857,481
FY08 55 3,146,008 159,366 2,986,642 1,853,500 1,133,142 75%849,857 849,857
FY07 41 2,505.166 88,937 2,416,229 1,246,256 1,119,973 75%839,980 839,980
FY06 34 2,035,115 166,120 1,839,129 970,880 859,249 12,550 75%635,024 647,574
FY05 23 1,324,413 28,124 1,295,789 674,360 621,429 Net 457,083
FY04 25 1,379,738 89,590 1,290,148 697,996 592,152 35%207,253

Note that if FY11 costs reimbursable under the circuit breaker run higher than the reimbursable FY10 SE costs, then the reimbursement received in FY12 could be increased. The budget currently assumes an FY12 grant equal to the FY11 amount.

Rates for out-of-district placements to in-state private schools are controlled by the Operational Services Division. Click here for information on rate-setting for out-of-district placement. For out-of-state placements, schools pay the tuitions set by the host states.

Click here and see section 1.06 for the rate-setting regulations. Essentially, the law provides for inflationary rate increases and for various kinds of special program increases. The special increases may run 5 or 10% or more. Over the years, the Governor and the legislature have gone back and forth freezing different components of these rate increases. Presently, the Governor is proposing a freeze (in outside section 48 of his budget bill)and the legislature has yet to take a position. Out-of-district private school tuitions are estimated at $2,317,813 in the FY12 Belmont budget.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

5 replies on “Special Education Costs and the Circuit Breaker”

  1. Hi Will… it seems that several links on this page no longer seem to work. I realize the news is old but it seems like a useful educational resource. If you have a chance, it’d be great if the links could be updated.

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