The dispute has had a tortuous history, including a string of failed negotiations.
After the state changed its special education laws in 1980, the Riverside schools superintendent filed suit. The suit contended that the state was improperly refusing to pay for mandated programs, including requirements that districts and counties offer extra school days for special education students; reduce the caseloads of language, speech and hearing therapists; and set up community advisory committees.
In 1992, an appeals court ruled that the state must pay for those programs and ordered that the case be reviewed by the Commission on State Mandates. That obscure but powerful board is charged with determining when the state has failed to pay for services it required of local jurisdictions.
Last June, after an earlier round of talks collapsed, the commission voted to begin reimbursing schools for their estimated costs. State Controller Kathleen Connell, a panel member who had pushed the parties to settle, urged districts to submit claims.
Many districts expressed immense relief that the settlement would save them from the probably impossible task of locating and poring over 20 years worth of records to prove how much the additional costs had been.
The settlement still must clear some hurdles. By January, school officials must gather signatures of approval from 85% of all districts and county offices. But all parties agreed they expect the deal to go through.