Today was a momentous day for students with disabilities in Olympia, as the State Senate unanimously approved two special education bills (SB 5532 and SB 5901) that support families, train teachers and increase funding.
The pair of bills passed back-to-back during a Saturday morning floor session. Taken together these bills show a strong, bipartisan commitment to addressing unmet needs and improving outcomes for students with disabilities in the state of Washington.
Here are statements from the prime sponsors of each bill.
The state Senate today gave overwhelming support to a pair of bills intended to improve the delivery of special-education services in Washington’s public schools. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, is the prime sponsor of one of those measures: Senate Bill 5532, which focuses on policy changes to support families and equip teachers. He said this following the unanimous vote to send his bipartisan legislation to the House of Representatives:
“Our state can and should do better at serving students with special education needs, and the parents of those students have made it clear that funding is not the main issue. They’re looking for help in navigating the system, and advocating for the specific needs of their children, and a more effective transition to further education and training after high school. And they recognize that professional development for teachers – all teachers, not just those in special education – is key to including students with disabilities in a general classroom. This bill is about all of those things, and I’m glad it was supported by so many of my colleagues.
“It’s important to realize that if SB 5532 and the second special-education bill we passed today become law, support for special education would be on track to increase by nearly $900 million in the next budget alone. A commitment of that size is proof that our school districts don’t need more local-levy authority to support special education – it means the Legislature is ready to respond to this and other funding needs that reach across our state’s K-12 system. Especially when those needs are about ensuring fairness and complying with our constitutional obligation to provide for the education of all children.”
Funding for special education totals $2.04 billion in the current state operating budget, which runs through June.
A bill passed today by the Washington State Senate increases funding for special education, paving the way for more inclusive learning environments. The bill passed with a unanimous vote.
Senate Bill 5091 is sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee. The additional special education funding comes at the request of parents, teachers and schools.
“We know that Washington’s special education students aren’t as successful as students in other states, and that is absolutely unacceptable,” Wellman said. “In order to make meaningful changes, including more inclusive learning environments, we must allocate additional funding to implement evidence-based practices.”
The bill changes the state’s cost multiplier for special education funding from 0.9609 to 1. This multiplier would be applied to calculate the amount of general education funding that each student receives in a given school district. For example, in a school district with $1,000 in per pupil funding, the district would be allocated $2,000 for each special education student.
The bill also replaces federal funding for the special education safety net with state funding – which allocates additional funding to schools with students who have high-cost Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). This frees up the federal funding to be used for other services such as professional learning for special education teachers.
Wellman amended the bill on the Senate floor to apply the same special education cost multiplier to incarcerated youth who qualify for special education. Currently, state and county institutions do not receive additional funding for these students, even though more than half of students in these facilities qualify for special education services.
In Washington, less than 4 percent of students with disabilities are identified as having an intellectual disability, and more than 90 percent have above average intellectual functioning, according to data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. But only 55 percent are placed in general education for 80 to 100 percent of the day. For students of color, the number is even lower — only 47 percent.
“Evidence shows that students who are included in general education have better outcomes,” Wellman said. “We know that this takes more resources, but it’s what we should be working toward.”
The bills now head to the State House of Representatives for consideration.