• Lisa Messer

Problems with Special Education Funding

For people outside of education state spending on Special Education can often be a mystery. Let’s be honest, for people in education funding can be a mystery. Most importantly though when discussing students who are involved in special education what we need to remember first and foremost is that they are students first. Students in special education bring unique and interesting perspectives to classrooms and make our classrooms a richer place by being there.

So why do we need more funding for these students? One reason is the legal requirements that come with Special Education. There are annual meetings with the student’s team, filing of paperwork to that show legal requirements are being met and the testing of the student to identify their strengths and needs. These all cost money for resources and personal and happen outside of the learning in the classroom. A second reason is the support needed to help a special education student. At the high school level this could look like an additional class of intervention time to support the student, which would require a special education teacher and often smaller class size. That’s going to cost a school district more. At the elementary level this could look like time with an intervention specialist to work with one on one with a student in maybe speech therapy or occupational therapy. That’s going to cost a school district more money. In a middle school additional support could look like a staff assistant that helps multiple students in a classroom. That’s going to cost a school district more. Additional support could look like professional development for a general education teacher so more students can be successful in general education classes. That’s going to cost the school district more. Additional support could be as simple as more hands on materials in a classroom. Even that’s going to cost a school district more. All these examples are for a student who spends most of their time in a general education setting; the cost for helping students who spend more of their time in a special education class are going to be even more.

How do we fix this? One way is to get the state legilature to admit there is a problem and fix this funding gap. The state sends just as much money for a special education student who is in all general education classes compared to a special education student who has a full time one-on-one aid with them all day, an individual bus to get to and from school and is only in special education classes. The state should be sending more money for students who need more interventions. The state also needs to end the 14% cap on the maximum number of special education students the they will send funding for. Vancouver in the 2017-18 school year had 14.3% of students. This means for the 2017-18 school year the district had just over 600 special education students that the state did not send additional funding for. What we are doing right now is using general funds (from the state and local levies) to cover the short fall of special education funding. That means tight budgets will get tighter and if our number of Special Education students increases it will only make the problem worse.

Why do we need to fix this? Because our community has high expectations for all our students (which it should). Because the education of all of our students is important for a democratic society. Because if we are going to have a graduation rate of 100% all students need to have the supports needed to be successful. Because educating all our students is the right thing to do.

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