Special education underfunded in Wisconsin: All students are impacted, experts say

HOLMEN (WKBT) — A recent study by the Education Law Center found that all Wisconsin school districts are underfunded in special education programs by more than $1 billion.

In Emily Keim’s classroom at Holmen High school, children learn how to communicate. Keim has been special education teacher for 11 years.

“Everybody has the right to access education,” Keim said.

Students in Keim’s classroom are non-verbal, but with the help of assistive technology, Keim says “they can have a voice and they can communicate with anybody, not just teachers and close family and friends.”

Assistive technology is just one of the tools covered under special education funding.

“The state of Wisconsin, the federal government, and local property taxes are the main sources of revenue to support education in this state,” Julie Holman, the executive director of finance at Holmen, said.

According to an Education Law Center report– the state of Wisconsin is not giving schools districts the money they need to cover special education costs. In the school district of Holmen, roughly $9 million are spent on special education funding. The state of Wisconsin only covers $2 million. Every special education student is under funded by $1,600. This problem is found statewide.  The Department of Public Instruction has made a request to increase special education funding by 45%, but even then, experts say it will not meet the special education costs of many districts.

“For the last decade we haven’t received inflationary increases on the revenue. So that’s why you’re seeing more and more referendums on the ballot this fall,” Holman said.

In order to cover special education funding, the school district of Holmen transfers 11.76% of their general operating budget to special education.

“It impacts all students because we’re pulling from one to meet the needs of another,” Holman said.

Holman says schools are in need of state funding.

“We’re doing the best we can with what we’re given, but we certainly could use an increase on the per pupil funding,” she said.

Kein says her students can get the same education as others, but only if they are given the tools they need.

“My students can learn like everybody else, they just learn in a different way.”

Updated numbers were given to WKBT  by the School District of Holmen after this story was aired. A correction has been made.