Lawmakers may be ready to overhaul special ed. funding

Lawmakers may be ready to overhaul special ed. funding

(Calif.) With growing evidence that the governor’s proposal for improving services to students with disabilities has won many supporters, attention has turned to a funding bill aimed at overhauling a “relic” in fiscal policy.

Special education services are paid for through a combination of state, federal and local resources. But it is local educational agencies that have been forced to carry as much as 60 percent of the costs in recent years. Even worse, however, is the disparity in funding that some districts receive in relation to the cost of their programs.

The governor’s revised May budget would set aside nearly $700 million in grant money that districts could use for any special education expense.

Already, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst has voiced opposition to the governor’s plan, and on Tuesday a key leader in the Assembly further diminished the plan largely because it would not address the fundamental equity problem.

“This like someone whose house is on fire, running out and trying to add on to it,” said Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, chairman of the education committee and a member of the subcommittee on education finance.

“This proposal is totally unworkable,” he said at a hearing of the budget subcommittee. “I cannot support it.”

If O’Donnell’s comments are shared by the Democratic majority, it might signal serious interest in a more comprehensive fix—namely, AB 428 by Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside.

Medina’s bill, which has been sidelined for now to the suspense file pending before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, seeks to address a decades-old policy that mandates much of the state’s support for special education based on the number of students enrolled in a district, not the number of SWD or the cost of serving the special needs population.

As proposed, his bill would provide an allocation adjustment to bring all LEAs within 95 percent of statewide funding rates.

The bill would create a special pool of money to help districts deal with high-cost of severe disabilities that might include autism, severe orthopedic impairments, serious emotional disturbances or severe intellectual disabilities.

Finally, the bill would also provide funding specifically for early learners with disabilities that would be distributed based on district needs.

In total, the changes would cost $1.3 billion over five years.

It is not clear if the governor’s office has taken a position on the bill, but legislative leaders are likely to leave AB 428 inactive until after negotiations with Newsom have concluded over the budget.

Within the Capitol, the bill has no substantial opposition but has an impressive list of school districts, education groups and K-12 officials supporting the measure—more than 160 so far, including the California Teachers Association, the California Charter Schools Association and Association of California School Administrators.

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