Recently the State Senate Education Committee heard testimony about a special education bill (SB 6117) requested by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The bill would – among other provisions – direct additional funding to students who spend 80 percent or more of their day in a general education classroom ($65 million over the next five years). No additional funding is directed to students who spend less than 80 percent of their day in general education classes.

This looks to be part of the legislature’s response to fix the state’s poor track record on inclusion.

While there was complete agreement (even from the committee’s chair) that the additional funding provided by the bill wasn’t nearly enough to cover actual special education costs for most districts (a long-standing problem not resolved by the McCleary case), Tacoma parent  Susan Leusner offered compelling  testimony that you should read or listen to for a couple of reasons.

✔️ First, she explains a common challenge special education advocates face year after year – the legislature claims to have fixed a problem they really haven’t by passing a bill that looks or sounds like they are fixing the problem.

✔️Second, she reminds lawmakers that special education is more than just directing funds in new ways or tweaking formulas – it’s about each child’s unique needs as developed through the IEP process.

Here’s a complete transcript of what she said, and here’s the link if you prefer to listen.

“Good afternoon Chair Wellman and members of the Committee. I’m Susan Leusner here today on behalf of Washington State PTA, the state’s oldest and largest child advocacy organization, with more than 128,000 members statewide. I’m also a parent and board member of the Tacoma Special Needs PTSA in Tacoma School District.

Our state’s funding cap of 13.5 percent for special education has disproportionately affected Tacoma, as currently 14.8 percent of our student population qualifies for special education. Our special education numbers are increasing every year, and we are currently running at over a $2 million deficit in the special education budget.

SB 6117 as written provides for two tiers of funding based on the student’s time in the general education classroom. While we appreciate the goal of inclusion and the small step this takes adding funding into the special education bucket, this is just not enough.

We recognize that a supplemental budget year is not the time to make huge investments in any single program, but one of our concerns is that small steps like this make it more difficult to ask for the bigger investment and easier for members who aren’t here year after year to say ‘didn’t we fund that already?’

As the parent of a student receiving special education services, I question why districts would receive additional money for including student’s 80 percent or more of their time in general education classrooms. This seems to take money away from students who need that funding and the additional services the most. This strategy could incentivize districts to push for placement that is not necessarily appropriate for students and takes power away from the very entity that is tasked with individualizing a students’ education plan – the IEP team.”