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Washington Lawmakers Introduces Bill to Address Special Education Funding Crisis

Law & Order

Washington Lawmakers Introduces Bill to Address Special Education Funding Crisis

Washington lawmakers have introduced a bill on Monday which aims to eliminate a decades-old cap on the number of special education students the state will fund.

It is one of the several steps to be taken to address Washington State’s special education funding crisis, which has left thousands of special needs students without access to the individualized education services they are guaranteed under state and federal law.

The Democrats have sponsored the bill, and it is yet to be scheduled for a hearing. It would facilitate the state to increase the amount of money it spends per special education student. It would also force the state to pay school districts based on the average number of special education students who live and are enrolled in the district — a major change from the model the state of Washington has followed for the last 24 years. 

As per the contemporary convention, the state will only shell out money to support the special education students who make up to 13.5 percent of a district’s total population — even though more than 100 school districts, in the 2017-2018 school year, reported having more students with special needs enrolled.  

Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, the primary sponsor of the bill said, “Our state has been denying students with disabilities their constitutional rights to basic education by cutting off funding to the school districts with an arbitrary percentage.”

All over the State, special education is heavily underfunded by millions of dollars. As per a report, which includes interviews with dozens of special education experts, educators and parents, revealed that the state’s cap on funding has-

  • Forced school administrators to take necessary resources away from general education budgets in order to stay in line with federal law.
  • Led some school officials to delay, reduce and deny eligible children access to special education services because their district won’t get enough state funding.
  • Played a role in shaping the state’s poor special education outcomes — from low graduation rates to high dropout rates and achievement gaps.

The beginning-

A study of 1995 shaped the landscape for Washington’s current special education funding system. Before that study, Washington funded special education based on the number of students with special needs enrolled in school districts.

But policymakers suspected that the school districts are manipulating the numbers by over-identifying special education students since more dollars were attached to each of them. The study also supported the fear of the lawmakers which led the state to put a 12.7 percent lid on the number of students it would fund with extra special education money in any district.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, the legislature increased the 12.7 percent cap to 13.5 percent. The change championed by Rep. Pollet that forced the state to provide school districts an additional $14.9 million for excess special education costs.

Rep. Pollet, who introduced legislation to eliminate the state’s cap two times before said, “There’s no doubt it helped, but it has still left thousands of children without support from the state of Washington, the result is school districts turn away a child altogether, which is illegal but they do it, or they simply are under incredible pressure to reduce the services for all the children.”

Noah Legg-Lopez, a 6-year-old non-verbal student with autism in Washington, didn’t receive an education for months because his Snohomish County school district, which exceeded the 13.5 percent cap, denied him to provide a chair in the class last school year.

Noah’s mom, Lindsay Legg, said, “We have enough battles that we fight all the time above and beyond what neuro-typical kiddo might face, getting a basic education should not be one of them.”

School officials at the rural district told Noah’s family that the school is too small to be able to cater to Noah’s needs. They were not equipped well to meet the child’s unique educational needs. After denial by the school, the family had to uproot their lives to a new city and pay hundreds of dollars a month for a private therapy program.

Washington’s Cap-

Washington’s cap is not a single instance in the whole United States. At least eight states, including Alabama, Alaska, and California don’t consider the actual number of students with disabilities in their districts and seek to limit the amount of money they spend on special education.

They reportedly use historical census data for all funding considerations. In Oregon, districts having more than 11 percent of students on IEPs receive a reduced amount of money for every student over the specified percentage points.

But according to EdBuild, a non-profit school funding research group that has analyzed funding models in all 50 states, Washington is the lone State with a funding model that provides no additional money to pay for students above the cap.

However, as per a study, the school districts do have the option to apply for additional state money on a case-by-case basis through a “safety net” process, but that amount of money is not significant enough to meet the demand.

So many school districts depend upon taxpayer dollars to cover their special education costs. As per a report, Washington school districts collectively spent nearly $165 million in local levy funds on special education during the 2015-2016 school year.

But, it should be understood that even if the cap is lifted, special education in Washington will still be underfunded.

Lots of public schools below the cap also struggle to accommodate student needs because they report a major shortfall in special education funds. The Everett School District, which has 11.9 percent of its K-12 students enrolled in special education, reported a $9.9 million deficit in the 2017-2018 school year.

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