Basic Education Budgets promise extra funds for special programs

OLYMPIA, Feb. 22 — Students remain the primary focus in each basic education budget proposal now before the Legislature. Students in special programs would receive extra funding, but with varying approaches in each of those funding plans.

In the Senate Republican education budget, for example, funding is based on the number of students in the district. However, districts would receive $7,500 more per special-education student in addition to the basic $12,500 per student support.

Additional funds would be allocated to districts to cover extra costs for homeless students ($1,500) and to those enrolled in bilingual instruction ($1,000), highly capable programs ($1,000), learning assistance, and career and technical-education and skills courses ($500).

Similarly, the plan proposed separately by three Senate Democrats would distribute additional funds for students in many of those same programs.

Programs such as Learning Assistance, Highly Capable, Transitional Bilingual, and Pupil Transportation, are part of basic education. Expenditures for these programs increase when basic education receives more funding. Funding for each program is allocated in hours.

The House Democrats’ plan would maintain this hourly formula. Funding in the plan is increased to cover an additional 3.4 hours for Learning Assistance Programs, 3.2 hours for Highly Capable Programs, and 6.778 hours for Middle and High School bilingual programs.

On average, districts currently receive $6,415.13 per student and an additional $5,972.01 for each special-education student. If passed, the House Democrats’ plan would be fully implemented in school year 2020-2021, and the state would allocate $8,665.70 to districts for each special-education student in addition to the $9,335.01 already allocated per student.

Educators and organizations are concerned about the amount of funding the House and Senate plans provide for special education. Currently the state funds up to 12.7 percent of special education in each district. This means districts would need to apply for state safety net funding or dip into levy funds when special needs students comprise more than 12.7 percent of a school’s enrollment. Safety net funding is for districts that have special education needs beyond allotted state or federal funding.

Neither the House Democrats’ nor the Senate Republicans’ plans would adequately fund support for students with special needs, according to Ramona Hattendorf, director of advocacy for Arc of King County. 

The organization advocates for the rights of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Before proposing a budget, she noted, the state needs to understand the special-education requirements for school districts.

She argues that the 12.7 percent cap should be eliminated and the state should fund all special-education students. Fully funding education would pay for staffing for all children, including counselors in all high schools and family-engagement coordinators and support staff in every school, she added.

“I hope they can actually fund a system that acknowledges that kids need support systems embedded in the school,” she said.

The House Democratic bill was amended to convene a workgroup to determine if the 12.7 percent cap should be adjusted to better fit the special education needs of districts.

(This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Reach reporter Grace Swanson at grace.swanson47@gmail.com)

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