Congress gave Oregon an extra $30M to spend on special education. Where are those dollars going?

American Rescue Plan funds have already started to hit districts

Hello readers!

Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole of school finance this week? Here we go…!


So, as I mentioned last week, March’s American Rescue Plan stimulus package included $3 billion nationwide for special education. This is in addition to the $122 billion K-12 schools as a whole got.

One of my readers wondered (and I did too) where that $3 billion is going since anecdotes abound of poor service so far this 2021-22 school year for our disabled kids.

While I couldn’t track down the money in the entire country, the Oregon Department of Education was nice enough to explain to me what my state got and where they think it should go.

I say where they “think” it should go because like many states Oregon is a “local control” K-12 system. That means that while the majority of school funding flows from this central hub, ultimately school boards and superintendents decide how it gets spent (within the law).

I explained last year in this article for PDX Parent how school funding in Oregon works so go read that if you need a primer. Long story short: we have weird property tax laws; also, there is very little discretionary funding on the ground. By the time money trickles down to principals, it might be enough to spend on something fun, but rarely enough for extra staff or programs or, say, tutors for individual student needs.

Almost all school funding is distributed via complicated formulas. Using one of these formulas, Oregon’s portion of the American Rescue Plan special education funds is about $35 million. A small portion of that will be spent on preschool and early intervention programs, leaving $30 million for Oregon’s nearly 80,000 special education students ages 5 to 21.

So if every special education student in Oregon got the same amount of this stimulus (which is not how the system works, but let’s just suppose) it would be… drum roll, please!

…about $385 per student1.

Wow, school administrators, don’t spend it all in one place!

Assuming they can create some economies of scale or squeeze blood from a stone, what are they spending that money on? Well, Eric Wells, ODE’s director of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act programs, said2 an “excellent potential use” of those funds would be on catch-up work. The 2020-21 school year meant a lot of disruptions for all kids, so the Department put together a very catchy-sounding memo called “Planning for Individualized COVID-19 Recovery Services.”3 In it, they direct IEP teams through a process for identifying and adjusting for any “unfinished learning” as a result of the pandemic.

How long will that take? Who knows. But they’ve got all the way until Jan. 28, 2024 to figure it out and spend that cash.


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• From The New York Times: “Parents of Students With Disabilities Try to Make Up for Lost Year

Education experts have said that it may take months or years to fully grasp the learning loss that children have suffered from remote schooling during the pandemic. But many of the parents and guardians of the roughly 200,000 students with disabilities in New York City say they have already seen drastic damages from their children’s loss of their usual therapies, services or learning accommodations.

• From The Atlantic: “The Downsides of Masking Young Students Are Real

No scientific consensus exists about the wisdom of mandatory-masking rules for schoolchildren. The World Health Organization, which recommends that children 12 and older wear masks under the same circumstances that adults do, specifically advises against masking kids age 5 and younger. Many European nations have been taking the agency’s advice. The United Kingdom has emphasized rapid testing instead of masking and has not required elementary-school students or their teachers to wear a face covering.

• From the Texas Tribune: “Texas’ ban on school mask mandates draws federal investigation for possibly violating the rights of students with disabilities

Disability Rights Texas, an advocacy group, filed a federal lawsuit in late August against [Texas Governor Greg] Abbott and [Texas Educational Agency Commissioner Mike] Morath. The group, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of 14 children, says that the governor's order and the TEA's enforcement of it deny children with disabilities access to public education as they are at high risk of illness and death from the virus.

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using the exact figures — $30,554,935 in Oregon ARP IDEA Part B (Section 611) funds, and 79,289 special education students in the 2020-21 December count — instead of my rounded numbers, it works out to a hair over $385.36 per student.


If any of my paid subscribers would like to see Mr. Wells’ full public statement, I’d be happy to share. It is an extraordinary monument to the power of bureaucracies to invent jargon and acronyms.


Here are some of my favorite lines from that document: “Making decisions about Individualized COVID-19 Recovery Services will require deep, meaningful partnership and participation by all members of the IEP team.” And, of course: “Take all practicable measures to ensure the parent is able to participate in these important decisions. Bolster district efforts to ensure meaningful parent participation. Parents are essential members of the IEP team.