Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let's talk budget! Senate releases its proposal

The big difference between proposals so far? The governor's budget has more revenue (and Senate funds mental health WAY more)

The state Senate released its operating budget proposal March 21 and - as expected - in areas outside of K-12 education and mental health it made cuts, or didn't include increases that advocates sought.

While the Senate proposal does include a new state property tax, that revenue is used to offset a proposed cap on local taxes for schools. It also offsets loss of extra funding that property-poor districts get. So while the Senate puts a new tax in play, there isn't new revenue for non-K-12 education areas.

In contrast, the governor included a revenue package to support his proposal. It includes a mix of changes, including expanding the state's business and occupation tax to include service businesses, and adding a capital gains tax. You can review it here.

For complete budget proposals:

The Arc of Washington does a great summary in chart form (see link at top) that compares budget choices for areas that are specific to disability services.

Overall, the Senate puts about $2.4 billion more into the Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS), though in part that is because the governor pulls out funding for a proposed Department of Children, Youth and Family Services. The Senate also funds Mental Health at a substantially higher rate. ($1.7 billion more.) The governor put more into Developmental Disabilities, including $45 million to fund a wage increase for community residential providers.

Some highlights:

FIRCREST: The Senate pushes forward on plans to close or consolidate the state residential habilitation centers (RHCs, also simply called "institutions"), and allocates funds to transition Fircrest School residents to community settings, nursing options, or another RHC. CONCERN: The Senate does NOT make the needed investments in community residential care to absorb new clients.

Did you know ... Community residential providers are fully responsible for the well-being of their clients for up to 24 hours a day, teaching life skills and coordinating health and other services for individuals with complex health needs?
Did you know community residential providers do the SAME JOB as staff in state operated living alternatives (SOLAs) and yet SOLA employees get paid $3 an hour more?

This pay disparity is causing such high turnover among supported living providers that they cannot take new clients. The Senate offers no policy rationale for keeping residential provider rates substantially lower.

With Fircrest closing and parent caregivers aging, more people will need to find supported living and residential options outside an institutional setting.

HIGH SCHOOL TRANSITION SERVICES: Good news here. Funding is provided for the expected 600 youth with I/DD who will be graduating and eligible to participate in employment services offered through one of the Medicaid waivers.

ACCESS TO AUTISM SERVICES: $3 million is designated to help people navigate services provided through the Health Care Authority.

HEALTH HOMES: $1.4 million to expand a coordination program available in King and Snohomish counties for people with the most expensive, chronic health problems.

LEAD EXPOSURE: Funding to sample and test drinking water and water fixtures in public schools across the state.

DEADLY FORCE TRAINING: Update and provide training for de-escalation patrol tactics, including teaching effective interaction with people with disabilities and behavioral health issues.

How other areas fared:

K-12 EDUCATION: Funding is increased - mostly to cover salaries because local school districts were paying staff more than the state allocated. On special education, funding is increased by about $120 million for the 2017-19 biennium. The Senate says this funding should also cover annual professional development for special education staff and wants an accounting of training.

  • This amount doesn't come close to covering the $266 million in local funding that districts spent on special education just in the 2014-15 school year, per state documents provided to the state supreme court. According to the McCleary decision, the state is supposed to pay the actual cost of basic education.
  • The Senate also kept the state cap on special education funding, coupling it with a ban on using local taxes to supplement basic education. This means if districts have more than 12.7 percent FTE students qualifying for special education, they have to spread their state funds thinner and CANNOT use local money to supplement. (Special education is part of basic education.)
  • The Senate (and state) uses averages in odd ways. As a statewide average, the FTE for special education falls within 12.7 percent (headcount is higher, at 13.5 percent.), so the state rationalizes that each district should also average 12.7 percent FTE for special education. But that is not how averages work. Students who need services are not evenly distributed among school districts, something the state is well aware of. Demographics vary quite a bit between districts, and within that statewide average are actual FTE percentages that range from under 9 percent to over 23 percent. That's how averages work, high and low together average out. This range in actual percentages at the local level, by the way, has existed since before the cap was applied.

    Trying to enforce uniformity across diverse districts ignores the impact demographics can have on the need for special education services. For instance, higher rates of premature birth, higher incidence of adverse childhood experience, higher rates of maternal substance abuse, higher rates of malnutrition or limited access to health care all influence early childhood development and can cause developmental delay. That in turn can trigger a need for special education services.

    "Special education" covers children with a wide range of disabilities, including behavioral/mental health, physical, intellectual, and developmental, as well as learning disorders such as dyslexia. Students with disabilities do not automatically get special education services. There is a three-step process that students must clear.

    Last year, 120 districts and one charter school topped the 12.7 percent FTE figure. As for the safety net, last year the state disbursed less than $2 million (total) to a handful of districts that exceeded the cap.

    The upshot is that simply because of where they live, complex youth may not get the services they need to access the general education curriculum. The Senate gives no policy rationale for continuing this practice.

PARAEDUCATORS: $2.2 million is included to pay for SB 5070, which deals with developing and implementing minimum employee standards.

EARLY LEARNING: While funding was allocated to increase what the state pays providers in Washington's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), funding was not provided to increase the number of slots in 2017-19. And going forward, slots for 3-years-olds will be phased out in preference to slots for 4-year-olds. ECEAP sets aside slots for children with disabilities and is one of the few inclusive early learning options available to families of children with developmental disabilities.

Overall, the Senate proposal cuts $25 million to homelessness and affordable housing programs

This includes:
  • Eliminating the Housing & Essential Needs program, impacting 4,600 people statewide. This program provides housing-related assistance to low-income adults who are unable to work for at least 90 days due to a physical or mental incapacity and who are ineligible for Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) cash assistance. In its place, the Senate would create a new Family Homelessness Assistance program.
  •  Eliminating homeless assistance programs targeting young adults: Young Adult Shelters, Homeless Student Stability Program and the Young Adult Housing program.
To watch for in the capital budget:
HOUSING TRUST & SET ASIDE: Funds were once set aside to help people with developmental disabilities find stable housing. With the state preparing to close Fircrest coupled with the challenges people with I/DD face in finding affordable housing in King County, I/DD advocates asked for an I/DD-specific set aside to be reinstated. Housing advocates also asked for a $200 million investment in the Housing Trust Fund.

You might also be interested in:

Close, extend or reimagine: What's the plan for DD institutions
Which paraeducator bill? We support SB 5070
How is family support faring? A legislative update
K-12 at the midpoint, a legislative update

- Ramona Hattendorf, Director of Advocacy, The Arc of King County