Disability Rights Groups Say State's Education Funding Plan Shortchanges Special Ed

Aug 31, 2017

Groups that advocate for kids with disabilities are weighing in on the state’s education funding plan passed by lawmakers in June. 

They have submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Washington state Supreme Court in the McCleary case over education finance, arguing that the funding plan shortchanges kids who need special education.

State lawmakers went into three overtime sessions to hammer out a plan to satisfy the state high court’s order to fully fund basic education. In a report to the state Supreme Court, lawmakers said their plan is an “unprecedented” increase to K-12 funding.

But disability rights groups say it falls short. Kathy George, an attorney representing groups that advocate for kids with special needs that submitted an amicus brief in the McCleary case, said it’s unconstitutional the way the state sets a cap on the percentage of a district’s total enrollment that can qualify for special education funding.

“Our analysis shows that 90 school districts, so about a third of the school districts in the state, are still over the cap,” she said.

Lawmakers did slightly lift the percentage of kids in a district who can qualify for special education funding, from 12.7 percent to 13.5 percent. But George said it still sets an arbitrary cap that leaves some school districts in the lurch.

She said districts spend a lot more on special education than the state provides, and this latest plan doesn’t fix that.

Democratic Rep. Gerry Pollet, who represents northeast Seattle, joined the disability rights groups in filing the friend-of-the-court brief.

He said he voted for the education funding plan because it provided more money to school districts in areas he represents. But he thinks the state needs to spend more on special education.

“It is part of basic education,” he said. “It is a federal mandate, it is a state law mandate, and right now we’ve got tens of thousands of children whose basic educational needs are not being met.”

The state does have a program called Safety Net funding. It's supposed to help districts when they have extra expenses for special education.

Lawmakers have directed the state superintendent of public instruction to review the Safety Net program and make recommendations on how much money is needed.