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(Jefferson City) – Missouri lawmakers have approved additional spending authority for the current fiscal year, including a $14 million increase for a fund that reimburses schools for the cost of educating children with special needs.

The “High Needs” fund reimburses school districts for special needs students who cost more than three times the amount of a typical student. If the typical student in a school district costs $10,000 a year, that same district would qualify for state reimbursement for students costing more than $30,000 annually.

State education officials said the growth in the fund is a result of more children with special needs and an increase in the costs of specialized instruction. In fiscal year 2010, Missouri school districts collected reimbursements from the fund for 2,177 students but last fiscal year that number rose to more than 2,700 students. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the fund typically increases by about 10 percent every year, but between 2012 and 2013, the fund’s cost jumped by 18 percent, which she described as “unusual.”

The cost increase isn’t only because there are more kids with special needs. School districts have also been getting better at documenting high-cost students and collecting the reimbursement money. In 2009 the state paid $26 million total to schools for special needs students, but in the current fiscal year Missouri districts are projected to get over $40 million from the fund.

Some of the fund increase approved by lawmakers will be used to pay off schools for bills left over from 2012.

Some lawmakers have cited the growth in the fund as a reason not to spend every dollar the state is projected to take in during a given fiscal year. Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget plan does not include any money for a supplemental budget like the one passed this week replenishing the needs fund.

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