Friday, February 3, 2017

House and Senate Bills Continue Special Education Inequities

The state legislature would continue to cut off funding at 12.7 percent of students, even though the state has 13.5 percent of students qualifying for services

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February 3, 2017

SEATTLE, WA – As the state House considers competing proposals to fix constitutional problems with school funding, an analysis by The Arc of King County found that both proposals would leave 8,688 students without any state funding to meet their special needs.  Both proposals would exclude nearly 147,000 children with disabilities from funding reforms.

The House Appropriations Committee has scheduled public hearings on Monday on two proposals to address McCleary v. State, the lawsuit forcing the state to fully fund basic education.   Those proposals – the House Democrats’ bill, HB 1843, and the Senate Republicans’ bill, SSB 5607 - would use different funding models to increase teacher salaries and boost various programs. 

Special education, required by federal law to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, is invisible in the reform discussions.  Both bills would increase funding for nearly every program except special education.   Both bills would retain an arbitrary cap on special education funding.

“In Washington, 1 out of 7 students is at a disadvantage in learning because of a diagnosed disability,” said Stacy Gillett, Executive Director for The Arc of King County, a nonprofit organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “These students have the same right to a fully funded education as anyone else, and an even greater need.” 

Under current law, the state pays a base amount for each student’s education, and allocates an “excess” amount for each student who qualifies for special education.  But the excess amount (0.93 percent of the base amount) is the same whether disabilities are mild or severe, and fails to meet actual needs.  Also, the state refuses to pay for special education for more than 12.7 percent of a school district’s K-12 students.  Although the 12.7 percent cap was highlighted as inequitable in the McCleary case, both the House and Senate bills would leave it intact.

According to an analysis by The Arc of King County:

  • This school year 120 school districts and Green Dot charter schools had more than 12.7 percent of K-12 students qualifying for special education, including some large districts such as Spokane. 

  • 8,688 students with disabilities are cut off from special education funding because of the state’s cap on funded enrollments.  

  • Under SSB5607’s proposed “per pupil model,” students would lose $65 million a year in special education funding due to the cap coupled with a prohibition on using local excess levy funds for basic education. Under Washington law, special education is part of basic education.

  • Under HB1843’s “prototypical school” funding model, the state would pay for less than one paraeducator per school through the 2021-22 school year, although paraeducators provide about 60 percent of the specially designed instruction needed due to disabilities.  An increase to 2 paraeducators per elementary school would come too late to help today’s students. The House plan also continues to shift special education costs onto local schools.

“It is frustrating that an especially vulnerable group has been left out of reforms,” said Sue Elliott, Executive Director of The Arc of Washington, one of several advocacy organizations that filed “friend of the court” briefing in the McCleary case on behalf of students with disabilities.  “If McCleary means anything, it is that all children are equal under the law.”

For more information, contact: Stacy Gillett,, (206) 829-8776

UPDATE: This release updates earlier numbers of children enrolled in special education services in Washington State. According to the Washington State Report Card, 146,807 students (or 13.5 percent of all public school students) are enrolled in special education services. The state will only fund up to 12.7 percent, per district.

You can find a breakdown of the districts exceeding the 12.7 percent cap here.