In the past six months the lives of persons with disabilities in Washington have taken center stage.
First, over the summer King 5 News began rollout of a multi-part series “Back of the Class: An investigation into Washington’s special education failures.” Reporters Susannah Frame and Taylor Mirfendereski exposed how Washington “lags behind much of the country” in serving students with disabilities. Here’s some of what they uncovered:
- Just over half of the state’s 6 to 21-year-olds with disabilities spend 80 percent or more of their day alongside their peers in general education classes. This places Washington in the bottom eight nationally for measures of inclusion.
- Only 58 percent of students receiving special education services earned a diploma in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 12 states graduated fewer kids with learning disabilities than Washington that year.
- The dropout rate for students with disabilities in Washington is among the worst in the nation, with 34 percent leaving school. Only Utah and South Carolina reported higher dropout rates in a 2017 U.S. Census Bureau Report.
For their efforts, King 5, Frame and Mirfendereski earned an Excellence on Disability Reporting award from the National Center on Disability and Journalism.
Second, this month The Seattle Times called on Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special session of the legislature to address funding shortfalls in special education. Although the responsibility to pay for basic education (which includes special education) has now shifted from local districts to Olympia, many local districts are signaling they still must run local levies to fund their special education obligations. The Seattle Times contends this issue is too important to leave unresolved until lawmakers return to Olympia in 2019:
If lawmakers wait until January, when the Legislature convenes for its regular session, lawmakers are at risk of getting caught up in a whirlwind of competing priorities, and the children will be forgotten again until the budget debate heats up in the spring. . ..
The Legislature needs to take the special-education funding issue off the table. Special education is clearly basic education and therefore must be funded by the state budget, not by local levies, as the Washington Supreme Court made very clear in its 2012 McCleary decision.
Finally, this past summer, the City of Seattle hosted The Special Olympics USA Games, described as “the biggest sporting event to hit Seattle in the past 25 years.” If you were fortunate enough to attend, you saw more than 4000 athletes and coaches competing on a national stage while thousands of fans cheered. This event also showcased how Seattle-area business and organizations are doing their part to create communities where people with intellectual disabilities are valued, welcomed and included.
Time and again we hear of the marginalization of people with disabilities. Too often they are left behind in the classroom and out of the workplace. Let’s hope years from now we can look back on the past six months as a turning point for the disability rights community. Whether through award-winning journalism, influential editorial boards, or nationally-recognized sporting events, people with disabilities in Washington are making their presence known.