With few exceptions, York County school districts have seen a huge spike in the number of special education students in recent years -- far outpacing the statewide increase.

One district official attributed that to better diagnoses, but she also said these students "have more complex needs in recent times."

And these are expensive needs federal law requires home districts to meet -- whether that means providing a one-on-one aide, a handicapped-accessible van or placement at an outside specialized residential facility in a different state.

None of the district officials interviewed for a special report by York Dispatch education reporter Andrew Shaw begrudged these students and their families their right to a public education.

They said they welcome each one and do the best they can to teach them.

These officials' problem is with the state, which hasn't increased special education funding to match the additional students.

An analysis shows the number of special education students who cost local districts more than $25,000 a year grew nearly 82 percent between 2006-07 and 2011-12. At the same time, cost of educating those students jumped by at least 91 percent.

Both of those numbers far exceed the state increases over the same period -- 25 percent growth in students who cost at least $25,000 a year and 37 percent increase in the cost to educate them, respectively.


While the state does offer a contingency fund to help defray the "extraordinary costs" of students with significant disabilities, it's not enough, school district officials said.

They want the state to revamp the special education formula so funding more closely mirrors actual fluctuations in costs.

Until that happens, school districts must scramble to pay for these students' education, even if it means cutting elsewhere.

Southern York School District recently eliminated 5 percent from every building's budget to cover special education cost increases, said chief financial and operations officer Wayne McCullough.

Some lawmakers are quick to blame school districts for their financial woes, but that doesn't cut it when it comes to special education.

When the mandated cost of educating these students increased 91 percent and state funding only increases 37 percent at the same time, something is obviously wrong with the formula.

And it's the Legislature's job to fix it.