SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate Education Committee endorsed a bill Friday that would update the formula for calculating state special education funding in Utah schools.
HB205, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, would base the calculation of special education weighted-pupil add-ons on student enrollments from a five-year rolling average one year ago. Currently, it is calculated based on student enrollments from a five‐year rolling average two years ago.
Changing it to a one year lag will result in a “more accurate and true representation of how many special education students need to be funded,” Judkins said during debate in the House of Representatives.
The weighted-pupil unit is the basic building block of education funding. Every student is funded by a single unit but there are add-ons for special education students and students in career and technical education programs.
The bill also raises caps on the prevalence of special education students in districts, which also factors into funding. The prevalence rate refers to the number of students in the overall public school population identified for special education.
Presently the cap is 12.18, but “almost all of our districts have a greater prevalence,” Judkins said.
The bill contemplates raising the prevalence cap to 14 in larger school districts and 20 in smaller districts because the addition of even a few special education students in some of Utah’s smallest schools districts has a larger impact on the district’s resources.
Leah Voorhies, assistant superintendent of student support at the Utah State Board of Education, said the national prevalence rate is 14. To remove the caps or raise them higher than 14 in the majority of school districts could result in the state being flagged for federal monitoring and corrective action.
Judkins said the bill carries a $10 million fiscal note.
“That just shows how much we’re underfunding special education right now,” she said.
The Utah Legislature’s Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee has identified the bill as a funding priority, Judkins said.