Upper St. Clair recoups $300,000 in fight for federal funds
Upper St. Clair School District has recouped more than $300,000 in federal ACCESS funds managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services via two separate lawsuits. The school board approved the first settlement, valued at $218,691 on Oct. 24, 2016, and the most recent settlement, worth $95,463.03 on April 17, 2017.
In September 2014, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services claimed that Upper St. Clair School District had received an overpayment of $249,811 in ACCESS funding during the 2012-13 school year. Upper St. Clair, along with 124 other school districts in the same situation, filed an appeal.
In February 2015, 78 Pennsylvania school districts – including Upper St. Clair – filed suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Each district paid a fixed fee of $5,000 to the law firm of Sweet, Stevens, Katz and Williams. Under the approved agreement, Upper St. Clair’s ACCESS funding overpayment was reduced from $249,811 to $31,120 – a savings of $218,691.
Subsequently, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services claimed that Upper St. Clair School District was overpaid $190,926 in ACCESS funding during the 2013-14 school year. Through an independent negotiation, the district’s attorneys reached a settlement whereby the Department of Human Services will pay the district 50 percent of the cost settlement value – $95,463.03.
ACCESS funds, federal dollars channeled through a designated state agency (Pennsylvania Department of Human Services), are a source of revenue for most school districts for services provided to special needs students. Under the ACCESS Program, school districts are eligible to receive federal Medicaid reimbursement for medically necessary services provided to special education students when the services meet specific criteria of the state’s Medicaid program and are being provided in accordance with the student’s individualized education program.
“School districts were put in the unfortunate position to incur attorney fees in order receive federal monies for critical student services,” Dr. Patrick T. O’Toole, superintendent, said. “Pennsylvania’s public school districts are challenged with stagnant funding from both the state and federal level. It is inexcusable that districts had to file suit in order to receive federal dollars for services provided to our students.”
In total, Upper St. Clair receives approximately three percent of its budgeted revenues from the federal government – this includes ACCESS funds. In 2016-17, federal funding revenues are estimated at $2,053,499 of the district’s $76 million budget.
“Throughout the last several years, Upper St. Clair School District’s ACCESS funds have not kept pace with real costs nor inflation,” Dr. O’Toole said. “In fact, last year’s ACCESS funding was less than the amount the district received in 2007-08.”
According to a report released Oct. 20, 2016, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state and federal funding for public schools has declined dramatically over the last decade. In particular, federal spending for special needs students has decreased by 6.4 percent.