More than 145,000 students in Washington state are eligible for special education services. But those can be expensive, and the state superintendent's office plans to ask the legislature to approve more funding in the next session.
Earlier this year, lawmakers approved an increase in the formula used to fund special education. The state also provides extra dollars known as safety net funds that school districts can apply for when they have children with very high needs.
But some school districts have said that still doesn't cover the full cost of special education and they have to use local levies to pay for the rest.
In a webinar sponsored by the League of Education Voters, Glenna Gallo, assistant superintendent of special education for the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, said increasing the safety net program is a priority for the agency.
“This is part of the request that OSPI will be making legislatively,” Gallo said.
Her office projects that it needs an extra $22 million this school year and another $33 million in the 2019-2020 school year for safety net funding.
Gallo also addressed concerns that parents of kids in special education have raised about their children being isolated from their peers without disabilities. Students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education under federal law, and they have a right to be included in a general-education classroom to the maximum extent possible.
“How is it that we ensure students with disabilities access the general education classroom and their non-disabled peers while still receiving quality special-education services?” she said.
Another issue is students in special education graduate at a much lower rate than their peers in general education. In the 2016-2017 school year, students in special education had a four-year graduation rate of 59 percent, compared with a statewide graduation rate of 79 percent.
Gallo said OSPI has come up with some priorities for improving outcomes for students in special education, including additional professional development for educators.