OLYMPIA– Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, has introduced a bill, HB 1910, to fully fund special education in schools across Washington. HB 1910 has fifteen co-sponsors including Reps. Senn, Kloba, Slatter and Bergquist who have been working for the past year on developing a model to fully fund special education and improve outcomes for students with disabilities in Washington.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported that school districts spent over $230 million in the last school year to pay for special education services for students out of school levy funding, even though special education is clearly part of basic education.
According to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, in the 2016-2017 graduation year only 59% of students receiving special education graduated in four years, compared to over 80% graduation rates in similar states. Rep. Pollet believes that this number is unacceptable.
“Our children have a constitutional right to an education, and we have a moral obligation to provide the support for them to succeed in school,” said Rep. Pollet. “If we want to see these numbers change, we need to dramatically ramp up our investments to give students the opportunities they need and deserve.”
As part of the 2017 education funding overhaul related to the McCleary lawsuit, the Washington state Legislature increased the base amount of overall education funding as well as the additional multiplier schools receive for students enrolled in special education. As part of that legislation, school districts were barred from using local levies to fund basic education programs, and had their levy funding capacity reduced.
“I’ve meet with school administrators in my district and it’s pretty clear the Legislature needs to step up funding for special education,” said Pollet. “We’re falling short by about $230 million per year.”
Under HB 1910 the special education multiplier, which currently stands at .9609 would be increased to 1.07 – about an eleven percent increase.
HB 1910 also eliminates the cap on the number of students with disabilities in each school district for whom the state provides funding for special education. This cap is currently set at thirteen and a half percent of a school district’s total student population. Districts with a special education population higher than that thirteen and a half percentage receive no extra state funding for each of the children requiring services above that cap. However, the school districts are required by federal and state law to provide all services recommended by professionals to enable the student to learn and participate in school such as speech therapy or support from a paraeducator in order to participate in the appropriate general classroom.
To improve outcomes for students, there is widespread support for evidence based programs that increase the amount of time students with IEPs spend in the general education classroom, and reduce the time they are pulled out (called least restrictive environment). HB 1454, introduced by Rep. Pollet would fund pilot programs in five school districts in collaboration with the University of Washington’s and Central Washington University’s special education and teacher training programs to improve special education student participation in general classrooms, including models for professional development and teacher education.