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Perhaps you clicked on the title thinking, "Oh, another NCLB post."  No.  I wish it were.  NCLB issues tend to get more media play.  This problem long preceded NCLB... and despite having Democrats in control of every aspect of the Washington State government, this one shows no sign of being resolved.

In the school district I work for, Unfunded Mandates has been the catch phrase of the past several years.  It has been a polite way for our Superintendent to say, "We're not getting enough Special Education funding, and it's sucking the life out of everything else."

The problem has become so severe that our school district and 10 others in the state filed suit.  We argued that the Washington State Legislature has habitually violated its constitutional duty to provide adequate funding for educating Special Education students.  This suit was filed September 30, 2004...   after several delays the case finally came to a close this past November, 2006.  What was the result?

After nearly two and a half years of holding our breaths, we're still waiting.  The ruling has not been issued yet, the oxygen is gone, and the time has come to make severe budget cuts.  This year the district I work for must cut 10.5 million from its budget.  An elementary school closure is imminent.  Arguably, 9 million of this is the direct result of Special Education costs.  How did it get this bad?

The Special Education funding model is fubar.  We are required by law to provide Individualized Education Programs for students that qualify for Special Education.  This tailor-made instruction is supposed to help each student achieve academic standards (a tale for another time).  However, the state funds each Special Education student identically, whether it is a student with a mild speech impediment, or a student who is autistic and needs constant one-on-one supervision.

The next problem is the funding cap.  An artificial cap was placed on Special Education funding, supposedly to deter school districts from classifying students as Special Ed just to receive extra cash.  This has happened in other states, but there is no evidence of that in Washington.  Our state policies dictating which students qualify for Special Ed are very strict.  Regardless, we are preemptively penalized, as the state chooses to fund only 12.7% of our total student population.  If we have more Special Education students than that, too bad.  

This is the chasm we are falling into.  My school district is located in a city that prides itself on its hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and specialists.  We are THE central location for medical care in Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and some of Montana as well.  I am not a parent of a disabled child, but if I was... this is the city I would want to live in.  This is where the professional resources are.

The miracles of modern medicine have bent the cap in more ways than one.  More premature children are surviving.  More children who are born with severe medical issues are living much longer.  This huge blessing in our society has the side-effect of increasing the needs of the population of our young people relative to the total population.  Some of our students just need a little bit of extra help to get up to speed.  Later in life, you would never know it.  But, the state is choosing not to pay for it.

Meanwhile, I am growing increasingly concerned about the parents of our General Ed students.  Each year we cut more "enrichment programs".  One year it was elementary sports and library services.  What will it be this year?  Anything that does not generate higher test scores is under the axe.  How long can this continue before parents of students without disabilities catch on?  In our school district, they get less education for their tax dollar than they would elsewhere.  

The Unfunded Mandates codeword can only obfuscate the issue for so long.  Those that do catch on, move their students to other districts or into private schools.  Hence, our overall enrollment is declining while our Special Ed enrollment is increasing with no relief in sight.  This past week the Superintendent proposed closing an elementary school.  

Some in our district were hopeful that Judge Thomas McPhee would make his ruling before the legislature's session began.  But, we have not heard a word.  So, this year the hemorrhaging will continue.  But, what about that $64 million increase in Washington State Education funding?

Governor Christine Gregoire got some great publicity recently for pledging to use some of our surplus to increase education funding.  If those dollars were funneled directly into Special Education, there would still be a $40 million dollar deficit.  Unfortunately, much of those funds are targeted for specific programs like higher education and early childhood education.

The sad thing is, those programs need funding too.  We all do.  If our state is ever forced to fix the Special Education funding model (as our constitution dictates), then what?  Where is the money going to come from?  Where is the burden going to be shifted?

Honestly, I don't know.  But our school district has shouldered it for long enough.

PS.  I have no special authority to speak for Spokane Public Schools.  I'm just a cog in the machine who has followed the issue closely and hopes to share it with others.

Originally posted to faedrake on Sat Jan 27, 2007 at 09:40 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  this is a national problem (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sprinkles, NapaJulie, Unduna, wa ma

    and let's be clear:  since no state is required to take Title I money, NCLB is NOT an unfunded mandate.

    But IDEA established SPED as a federal civil right.  It is REQUIRED.   The original agreement was that the Feds would provide 40% of the average additional cost of SPED.   Never been close.   The current level is about 18%.  I know that in Virginia the difference between what was received and was should have been received under the funding promise was over 330 million dollars.

    Schools, districts and states who have to provide the missing funds are usually forced to raid other programs for the moneys.   It is robbing Peter to pay Paul.  

    This IS the real unfunded mandate in US education.  It falls especially hard on inner city schools with a higher proportion of SPED kids (and one analyst I know attributes this directly to the effects of lead based paint, still prevalent in many older inner city buildings, and often flaking off things like bridges and other public structures).  Thanks for focusing attention.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Sat Jan 27, 2007 at 09:45:12 AM PST

  •  I've been meaning to write this diary.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NapaJulie, Unduna, wa ma, 7November

    for a long time.  The school closure announcement this week finally pushed me over the edge.

    •  The whole system is, arguably, "unfunded." (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NapaJulie

      Don't get me wound up on school finance, Kos may not have the hard drive capacity.

      As for me, I'm headed into downtown SF to get my fair share of abuse protesting the junta that has taken over my country.

      "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order."

      by 7November on Sat Jan 27, 2007 at 10:31:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The TRULY unfunded mandate, indeed. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    faedrake, NapaJulie

    And IDEA 2004 has to be implemented statewide this year. The demands just got higher, and reauthorization happens again this spring. That'll be a whole new bag of worms.

    Thanks for an important diary. Coming from a special ed teacher, I must add that the amount of time and money spent trying to get around spec ed law is more exhaustive than just following the damn law. If funds were allocated to getting personnel in the classrooms as opposed to administrative overweight, spec ed kids could get inclusion (Least Restrictive Environment) and reg ed kids would get better support services as well. I believe that districts could and should use the LRE laws to improve education across the board.

    But that is miniscule compared to the massive problem you diary here. It's monstrous. But a paradigm shift in our concept of delivery will be vital in solving the problem, imo. To date, the way in which we separated spec ed from reg ed in the past still has a strangle hold over our delivery model today, despite legal requirements that we begin to incorporate the two into one model. It should inform everything from brain-based curriculum to classroom personnel, but we are a long way away from getting where we need to be and could be. There could/would be significant financial benefits and significantly positive instruction consequences. It has to be changed.

    It's past time for an education paradigm shift. We must shift finances from administrative overload and into personnel/teacher-student ratios. It's bizarrely simple, but it will likely never happen. Thanks for a vitally importatant diary on a seriously under-rated problem. It puts NCLB on the backburner comparatively.

    "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder, a secret order." Carl Jung

    by Unduna on Sat Jan 27, 2007 at 10:11:50 AM PST

  •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)
    Thanks for sharing.

    I'm actually doing a paper on education policy in the states. This only reinforces what I've been reading about.

  •  don't put the blame where it belongs (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sprinkles

    It is the Republicans

    The only thing HOLY about a Republican is the holes in their head where their brains fell out

    by roxnev on Sat Jan 27, 2007 at 12:21:57 PM PST

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