SELPA's Role in Special Education Funding

Due to changes in special education law that occurred after 1980, SELPAs began, and continue, to play a significant role in California’s special education funding process. In 1995, a joint Legislative Task Force, including the CDE, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and the Department of Finance issued a final report that equalized funding to SELPAs and allowed the LEA to determine the distribution of funds. The new funding model wasBoy with Down's Syndrome coloring a picture signed into law in 1997 through AB 602. For a thorough treatment of events leading up to the passage of AB 602, please review "Why the Concern About A New Funding System for Special Education?" written in 1996 by Sarge Kennedy, former Assistant Superintendent of SELPA/Special Education for the Tehama County SELPA. 

A guiding principle of the new funding model is that allocations to SELPAs encourage and support an area-wide approach to service delivery that incorporates collaborative administration and coordination of the special education services within an area. It allows for the tailoring of organizational structures to differing population densities and demographic attributes, and provides local flexibility for the planning and provision of special education services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

To accommodate the unique needs of sparsely populated regions in the state, the state distributes additional funding to Necessarily Small SELPAs, defined as any countywide SELPA serving fewer than 15,000 students overall. SELPAs serving sparsely populated regions typically experience unusually high per-student special education costs for two reasons. First, LEAs in these regions have unusually high transportation costs because their staff might spend hours each week traveling between school sites, or their students might be bussed long distances in order to receive services. Second, these LEAs often employ specialists with unusually small caseloads. Currently, California has 19 such SELPAs. These SELPAs receive add-on funding based upon a formula that provides the largest amount of additional funding to the smallest SELPAs, and SELPAs can use this funding for any special education expense.

As sometimes portrayed, SELPAs are not simply a pass-through entity for special education funds between the state to individual LEAs. Rather, each SELPA is responsible for administering all aspects of a local plan. EC Section 56836.01 states the administrator of a SELPA, in accordance with the board-approved local plan, has the following responsibilities:

  • The fiscal administration of the annual budget plan pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) of EC Section 56205 and annual allocation plan for multidistrict SELPAs pursuant to EC Section 56836.05 for special education programs of school districts and county superintendents of schools composing the SELPA.
  • The dissemination of state and federal funds allocated to the SELPA for the provision of special education and related services by those entities.
  • The reporting and accounting requirements prescribed by this part.

Further, EC Section 56836.23 requires funds for regionalized operations and services and the direct instructional support of program specialists be apportioned to the SELPA. As a condition of receiving these funds, the SELPA must ensure all functions listed below are performed in accordance with the description set forth in its local plan adopted pursuant to EC Section 56205:

(a) Coordination of the special education local plan area and the implementation of the local plan.
(b) Coordinated system of identification and assessment.
(c) Coordinated system of procedural safeguards.
(d) Coordinated system of staff development and parent and guardian education.
(e) Coordinated system of curriculum development and alignment with the core curriculum.
(f) Coordinated system of internal program review, evaluation of the effectiveness of the local plan, and implementation of a local plan accountability mechanism.
(g) Coordinated system of data collection and management.
(h) Coordination of interagency agreements.
(i) Coordination of services to medical facilities.
(j) Coordination of services to licensed children’s institutions and foster family homes.
(k) Preparation and transmission of required special education local plan area reports.
(l) Fiscal and logistical support of the community advisory committee.
(m) Coordination of transportation services for individuals with exceptional needs.
(n) Coordination of career and vocational education and transition services.
(o) Assurance of full educational opportunity.
(p) Fiscal administration and the allocation of state and federal funds pursuant to Section 56836.01.
(q) Direct instructional program support that may be provided by program specialists in accordance with Section 56368.

[Source: CDE Executive Memo to State Board of Education, March 27, 2019]