The education of students with disabilities is receiving a great deal of much-needed attention in the 2019 legislative session in Olympia.

State Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) and State Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) filed an important bill this week to help better support families and focus on improving outcomes for students with disabilities. It includes:

  • access to a free advocate for families who need help navigating the special education system
  • the creation of local special education advisory committees in every school district to give families an effective method of providing feedback
  • improvements to transition planning for students to help better prepare them for life after high school
  • teacher training
  • updates to funding formulas.

Here is the press release that accompanied the bill’s filing from the office of Sen. Braun, along with links to the original bill.

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OLYMPIA…Major new legislation introduced today in the state Senate would address parent-centered concerns about special-education services through a combination of policy updates and funding. The approach is reminiscent of the comprehensive 2017 proposal that ultimately moved Washington’s K-12 funding system into the 21st century.

“We have an opportunity this year to support big improvements in how special education is delivered, and the outcomes for students with disabilities. Those needs go much deeper than a budget appropriation,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5532.

For instance, Braun noted Washington is in the bottom 10 states when it comes to inclusion, meaning how often a student with disabilities is educated in a general classroom. Barely half of special-ed students receive a diploma, which puts the state in the bottom one-fourth nationally.

State Sen. John Braun (Centralia)

“There’s a difference between wanting to serve these students and being equipped to serve them, in ways that will prepare them for productive lives. Parents have told us it’s not strictly about money, which is why our proposal is strong on policies that are geared toward getting them and their schools the kind of help they can use most,” Braun said.

SB 5532 would improve professional development for teachers to support best practices in special education. It also would improve the transition planning necessary to support further education and training for students with disabilities once they move on from high school.

Families would gain from receiving free access to advocates who would help them and their children navigate the special-education system, and from the establishment of local advisory committees to enable even more involvement and interaction with their school districts.

On the financial side, Braun explained, the bill includes updates to state funding formulas that would better align allocations with actual costs.

“This proposal blends things we know from a long history of supporting vulnerable Washingtonians and their families, and factors we emphasized more recently – like the importance of outcomes – during the successful effort to modernize basic-education funding,” said the Senate Republican budget leader. He was among a select group of lawmakers who crafted Washington’s landmark bipartisan K-12 funding reforms in 2017.

“It’s also the next step in our ongoing drive to address inequities in the public-school system, so students can achieve their fullest potential.”

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Full text of bill is here: SB 5532

Bill digest is here: SB 5532 bill digest