Governor’s special ed. funding many not help early learners

Governor’s special ed. funding many not help early learners

(Calif.) The governor’s plan to spend $576 million next year to support special education services—particularly those aimed at young learners—is unlikely to improve early intervention, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst said in a new report.

Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed adding the money to existing state resources to help pay the growing cost of educating students with disabilities but also those for preschool children with special needs. Although Congress has long promised to provide 40 percent of the cost of special education, last year California received only about 10 percent from the federal government.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, schools are required to begin providing educational services to children in their infancy if identified as disabled.

In his budget plan, released earlier this month, Newsom suggested that a bigger state investment in early learners services could save money up the road.

“This funding is intended to supplement services for students currently receiving special education services and for preventative services that may reduce the need for additional services in future years,” Newsom said.

More than 41,000 infants and toddlers with special needs received services supported by the state in 2015-16 at a cost of about $370 million. Another $50 million comes from a federal grant.

Most of the children have a clear disability—such as visual or hearing impairment—or have a significant development delay—such as not speaking or walking when expected.

A main provider of support comes from a network of regional centers overseen by the state’s Department of Development Services. There are also almost 100 schools that have local programs dating back to the 1980s.

The system, which has remained virtually unchanged for decades, is drawing new attention as more and more districts struggle with the cost of services, as well as the realization that outcomes for SWD continue to decline.

Indeed, a key factor in the high number of California school districts receiving mandatory help from their county offices of education are poor academic scores of SWDs both last year and in 2017.

In an effort to change that landscape, Newsom committed to three policy goals in the coming year:

• Better coordination between general education and special education programs;

• More transparency around local planning for regional special education services; and

• Improved transitions between regional centers and local educational agencies for three-year-old children with exceptional needs.

The LAO noted, however, that the administration’s funding plan gives districts discretion over how to use the money—it can go toward early intervention or for overall expenses. As a result, the LAO said, most districts probably will use the money to cover the overall cost of special education.

“Because special education costs have far outpaced special education funding in recent years, most schools receiving funding under the governor’s proposal likely would use the funds to help them cover their existing special education costs,” the LAO said.

For legislative leaders moving forward on budget negotiations with the governor, the LAO suggested lawmakers decide which goal is more important.

“If the Legislature wanted to promote early intervention programs, it likely would need to take a different approach—crafting a more targeted initiative with specific requirements and accountability measures,” they said. “As a targeted early intervention program likely could benefit many students and keep some students from later needing more expensive special educations services, the Legislature will want to think carefully about which of the governor’s two goals it would most like to address.” more