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Gordon Measure To Ease Unfunded Mandate On School Districts Signed Into Law

Senator Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, listens to testimony before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee regarding services for people with developmental disabilities.

New Law Provides State Funding for Public School Districts Required to Provide Special Ed Services to Out-of-State Students Enrolled in Private Schools Within District

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon that will 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 signed into law last week by Governor Christie.

“When a school district is doing its due diligence under federal special education law, the State should step up to meet the district halfway,” said Sen. Gordon, D-Bergen. “However, for years the State Department of Education has denied districts funding for special ed evaluations that districts are required to perform under federal mandates. This new law introduces a little more fairness into the process, and requires the State to act as good-faith partners with local school districts to make sure that students get the education they need.”

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 New Jersey Department of Education has interpreted current state law (Chapter 193) in a manner that renders a non-public school student who resides in another state ineligible for state aid to support evaluation services. Consequently, a school district must pay for such costs using local property taxes or federal special education funding intended to support the services provided to public school pupils.

The new law, A-2300 / S-1762, ensures that school districts are eligible to receive Chapter 193 state funding to provide federally-required special education evaluation services to non-public pupils who are not residents of New Jersey. The move would provide significant financial relief to districts that have been forced to assume these costs, particularly those that have been hit hard by a loss in state aid.

On average, school districts are required to pay a little over $1,300 per pupil for a special education evaluation. The district of Paramus, for example, recently conducted an initial evaluation of a pupil in March that cost $1,500 and a subsequent occupational therapy evaluation totaled an additional $700.

“When you look at a school district like Paramus, which lost nearly 99 percent of State aid during the recent budget negotiations, any added cost to the district can be tough to absorb,” said Senator Gordon. “New Jersey has many outstanding schools for special needs students, and a school district shouldn’t be penalized if out-of-state parents seek out the best care they can get for their children. This new law will make sure that we continue to do our part to provide for special education without putting taxpayers on the hook for the education and evaluation costs of out-of-state students.”

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate and Assembly in June.

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