School districts face an enormous financial burden when it comes to educating our highest-need students. Financing the Education of High-Need Students focuses on three specific challenges that are often encountered when districts—especially small ones—grapple with the costs of serving their highest-need special-education students.

Districts and states could put these recommendations into practice today, without waiting for reforms or help from Washington:

  1. District Cooperatives: Many districts—including charter schools, which often comprise their own mini-districts—do not have the requisite size and capacity to serve high-need students effectively and affordably. Multi-district co-ops allow for both economies-of-scale and better service-delivery for these children.
  2. Student Funding Based on Multiple Weights: Special education funding systems based on average student needs may be easily administered, but they can also lead to inefficient and ineffective resource allocations. Weighted student funding is a tiered system of resource allocation that allows for a more rational and efficacious distribution of funds, enabling districts with more high-need pupils (or pupils who require more dollars to pay for their IEP-mandated services) to receive more money while jurisdictions that need less receive less. Basing those weights on services needed by children rather than disability diagnoses significantly improves the accuracy of this system.
  3. Exceptional-Need Funds: Districts (especially small ones) sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the high cost of educating one or two particularly needy children. This type of fund, managed and predominantly financed by the state, acts as an insurance mechanism for districts that can’t cover the full cost of educating high-need pupils along with all others under their purview.

Matt Richmond is a research analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Matt’s work incorporates an even mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, primarily on special education and school staffing patterns. Recently, his interests have included the Institute’s “pathways out of poverty” project and issues of 

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Daniela was the development manager and policy analyst for the Fordham Institute. Donning many hats at Fordham prior to this role, Daniela had worked as a research intern, research assistant, and interim new-media manager. She started her career as a teacher of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, and as a high school rowing coach. Prior to joining forces with TBFI, Daniela was a Global Development…

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