Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner to shield public school districts from having to assume the special education costs for out-of-state students enrolled in private schools within the district was released Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. “New Jersey has many outstanding schools that provide special education services and it’s understandable that parents from out-of-state would want to send their children here, but it’s simply not feasible to expect our public school districts to shoulder the costs of them doing so,” said Wagner (D-Bergen).Since 2004, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has required that a school district provide special education evaluation services to students enrolled in a non-public school located within the district, even if the student’s permanent residence is in another state. The state Department of Education, however, has interpreted current state law in such as way as to make out-of-state, non-public school students ineligible for state aid to pay for these evaluation services. As a result, school districts are forced to defray the costs using local property taxes or federal special education funding intended for public school students.
Wagner’s bill (A-2300) would clarify that a school district is eligible to receive state funding to provide special education evaluation services for out-of-state, non-public school students. On average, school districts are required to pay more than $1,300 per pupil for a special education evaluation. The district of Paramus, Wagner’s hometown, recently conducted an initial evaluation of a pupil in March that totaled $1,500, with a subsequent occupational therapy evaluation that totaled an additional $700.
“For a district like Paramus, that is losing almost 99 percent of its state aid this year, these costs add up quickly,” said Wagner. “With this change, we can provide relief to both school districts and taxpayers throughout the state.”
Wagner indicated the legislation would provide significant financial relief to school districts that are forced to assume the cost of providing these evaluation services, particularly those that have been hardest hit by losses in state aid.
An identical bill (S-1762), sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon, is making its way through the Senate.
“This will provide much-needed relief to school districts handcuffed by Byzantine education laws,” said Gordon (D-Bergen).
“School districts are already hard-pressed financially, given the dramatic cuts in state aid. To allow this law to remain on the books, as is, amounts to a sizable unfunded mandate during a time when many districts can least afford it.”
The bill was also released by the Assembly Education Committee on Monday, and now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.
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