When a van used for transporting special education students in the Pulaski School District near Green Bay had piled on the miles and was due to be replaced, district officials thought the common-sense thing to do would be to reuse the van for lower-priority purposes, such as hauling athletic equipment and making deliveries between buildings.
But because the van was purchased under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, regulations wouldn’t allow it to be used for any other purpose. So the district was forced to sell the van and replace it or else face a reduction in federal funding equal to the value of the van.
“It’s probably not the most efficient way if we have a piece of equipment that still has some useful life, but because of the complexities of those federal funds, it’s easier to sell them than repurpose them in the district,” says Bec Kurzynske, Pulaski superintendent.
“We rely on federal dollars, and we don’t want that money to go away,” she says. “But sometimes (the federal government) just creates operational inefficiencies.”
Pulaski’s experience isn’t uncommon. When it comes to dealing with federal funding for local schools, dollars from D.C. not only come with myriad regulations, increased bureaucracy and other hidden costs, they also force local school officials to make decisions they wouldn’t make otherwise.
Those actions sometimes come at the expense of students, teachers and staff, officials say. That has some wondering whether to take the money at all and questioning what the federal government is adding to the education of their students, a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute survey finds.
Madison plans to spend nearly $20,000 per student during the 2017-2018 school year, far more than most.