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Local fights for better special education funding

 

February 7, 2018 | View PDF



One local advocate hopes to improve some of the basics of special education funding by promoting more state funding.

Former Marysville-Pilchuck High School student Preston Dwoskin has gone to the state legislature in Olympia many times in the past and plans to advocate specifically for special education funding this year.

Local school districts get funding for special education students from both the state and federal government, said Kathy Ehman, assistant superintendent of the Arlington School District.

On the state side most, but not all, of the funds come from two different formulas, she said.

The first involves calculating the number of students in specific age categories and the second formula involves calculating the amount of time each of those students spends not in the basic education program.

However, the state legislature has put a cap on that funding, meaning that currently the district receives special education funding for a maximum of 13.5 percent of the student population, even if the district has more students than that who require special education.

That cap percentage used to be 12.7 percent but was raised this year, according to Mike Sullivan, executive director of finance and operations at the Marysville School District.

For district’s that do have students above the cap, like Marysville, that could mean many unfunded students. Currently they have 34 students who are over the cap, said Sullivan.

“We’ve been higher in the past,” he said, with some recent years having more than 100 students above the cap.

“We’ve been over the cap the last few years, but there are districts out there that have it worse,” he said.

About a third of the districts in the state are currently over the cap, according to Ginger Merkel, executive director of special education at the Marysville School District.

“We still get the basic education funds for these students, but we don’t get the funds to help provide their specific needs,” said Sullivan.

Districts typically cover the costs for these extra students with money from their levies, said Sullivan.

“That can turn into a lot of money,” he said.

This year, with just 34 students over the cap that means the district is missing more than $200,000 they have to make up, said Sullivan.

Dwoskin said that the services for special education students are important.

For some of the students “if you’re not getting one-on-one support, you’re not understanding what is going on in the curriculum,” he said.

“We need to have funding to provide those services that fit their needs,” he said.

Dwoskin himself is hearing-impaired and received support when he was a student in the Marysville School District.

“I was a very expensive student being hearing-impaired. I had to have a lot of services,” he said.

Not all districts are affected by the cap. The Arlington School District is around 11 percent special education students right now.

“I’ve worked in other districts where [increasing the current limit] would have made a difference,” said Ehman.

“So, largely, it’s a district-by-district issue regarding whether this will make an impact,” she said.

However, Ehman said that the special education departments at the districts she’s worked at never receive enough support from the state.

“They don’t operate on the revenue they bring in,” she said.

Local levy dollars are almost always needed to help support the special education students, she said.

“There are so many students whose needs are significant and unique,” she said.

The Washington state legislature is discussing bills that may have an impact on funding issues such as these, however Arlington and Marysville officials said that it is still in the discussion phase.

“We’re still waiting for clear direction from the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction on where the conversation is heading,” said Ehman.

The biggest concerns for her were changes to what districts could do with levy dollars, because those funds help with Arlington’s programs, she said, and if there were new restrictions it would impact the district’s financial flexibility.

Currently many special education students receive extra funding equal to 93 percent of what a basic education student would get, but there is talk of raising that number.

“They may increase that rate some, not to 100 percent though,” said Sullivan.

He also hopes that eventually there will not be a cap on the percentage of special education funded.

“The problem I have with it is, why cap the number of special education students funded?” said Sullivan.

Dwoskin said he hopes to advocate to improve the state of special education.

 

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