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Democratic State Senator Says Boosting Special Education Funding Is A Priority This Session

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
State Sen. Jamie Pedersen represents the 43rd District in Seattle.

State lawmakers head back to Olympia on Monday for the short legislative session. One Democratic state senator says a high priority will be boosting funding for special education.

Even though the state legislature agreed on an education funding plan last year, there has been a lot of criticism that the plan still underfunds special education services.

Under the current law, the state pays an extra 93 percent on top of the basic education per-pupil allocation for a special education student.

State schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal and the state Board of Education both have urged lawmakers to increase the per-student amount the state allocates for special education. Reykdal is encouraging lawmakers to lift that extra amount to 109 percent.

Jamie Pedersen is a Democratic state senator from Seattle. He spoke at a forum Wednesday on education funding at Hamilton International Middle School in Seattle hosted by parent-teacher-student associations

He said afterward that he has heard from a lot of school districts that more special education dollars are needed.

“I think what we’re hoping to do is fix that allocation model and increase the basic education allocation for special ed so that in the future, and starting with the supplemental budget, we’ll be giving more money out to districts,” Pedersen said.

JoLynn Berge, finance chief for Seattle Public Schools, said the district uses about $50 million of local levy money annually to pay for special education. She said that money should come from the state because special education is part of basic education.

Berge said lawmakers have acknowledged the need to boost special education funding.

“They’ve been very receptive because it’s not just a Seattle issue, it’s districts across the state,” she said. “So what we’ve been saying is that it’s the per-pupil amount that needs to go up. It’s not about qualifying more kids. It’s about the amount we receive from the state per student has to increase.”

In addition to focusing on special education funding, Pedersen said the legislature will also have to address the state Supreme Court order to come up with about $1 billion to fully fund a new teacher and staff salary model.

And the legislature may have to try to find money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known in Washington as Apple Health for Kids, if Congress fails to come through with long-term funding. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.