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Polis looks to fund special ed with Pentagon cuts

Kathryn Corazzelli
Summit Daily News

Rep. Jared Polis (D- Boulder) recently unveiled legislation to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act over the next five years, which in 1975 promised to pay 40 percent of the excess cost of educating students with disabilities. For the 2010-11 school year in Summit County, 6.6 percent was funded through the federal government.

“It’s always been underfunded in Colorado, there’s always a need,” Heidi Pace, superintendent for Summit School District said.

Last school year, Colorado paid 20.2 percent and Summit’s local property taxes made up the rest: $1,547,980. Total special education costs in 2010-2011 equaled $2,115,154 for 325 students, or 10.4 percent of the district population.

It’s one of those unfunded mandates, Polis told the Summit Daily. He said his legislation would fully meet the federal government’s responsibility without increasing the deficit or taxes.

Polis plans on fully offsetting IDEA’s cost with savings from cutting Department of Defense weapons systems by $18.8 billion over the next five years. Money would come from replacing projected purchases of the Navy and Marine Joint Strike Fighters with F/A-18E/Fs fighter aircraft, saving $14.5 billion. More would come from cancellation of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a program the Pentagon has said it no longer supports, saving $2.5 billion. Reducing by one number the number of aircraft carriers and Navy air wings – without sacrificing naval superiority – would free up another $1.8 billion.

“We found some unnecessary expenses. The areas I’ve identified have been identified by commissions as wasteful,” Polis said.

If citizens wanted to use the savings he identified for deficit reduction, Polis said that’s fine with him. But, he is committed to finding a way to fund IDEA any way he can. With state budget cuts, schools are already hurting, he added.

“Special ed goes from a kid who has articulation issues or a stutter, all the way to kids who have severe cognitive and physical disabilities,” said Mary Kay Dore, Summit School District director of special education.

Which means department needs vary – different equipment, communication or learning devices might be required depending on which children are enrolled in the program.

“All of it can be so expensive,” Dore said, adding that she would be pleased to see IDEA funded. Usually, she’s “pinching pennies” through the springtime.

The extra money would lighten up the budgetary load from the general population as well, she said.

“For us regular citizens, how could you put in a mandate and then never fill it? It just doesn’t make sense to us outside of the Washington process,” Dore said.


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