A golden rule in special education is that early intervention can help children onto the right track, if not to keep apace of their typical peers, but to be their most accomplished selves. Time must not be squandered.
But apparently that’s not a value shared by the leaders in the Democratic-controlled state House.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, all but acknowledged to Seattle Times reporter Dahlia Bazzaz that his leadership has decided it simply has run out of time to deal with special-education policy. That’s despite a Senate bill that does just that and passed the Senate unanimously. Among other things, the bill would require training for staff that ensures more inclusion for special-education students. Washington’s track record lags the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education, with only 54.4% of special-education students spending at least 80 percent of the school inside general-education classrooms. Nationwide, the number is 62.7%.
But House Democrats let the bill die more than a week ago.
In other words, it’s just fine for the state not to provide policy changes so middle-school students don’t have to be isolated from their peers because general-education teachers aren’t trained to include them in the larger community.
The Legislature’s continued and, in fact, studied indolence about fully addressing special education is not only a violation of these students’ civil rights but a moral outrage. That the Legislature left special education out of the sweeping education-finance reforms mandated by the McCleary ruling all but condones a conscious and longstanding decision to leave behind our students who are most struggling.
This shoulder-shrugging is especially troubling since The Seattle Times editorial board quizzed 108 legislative candidates from King and Snohomish counties on the importance of special education and the state ending the practice of leaning on school districts to use local levies to pay for state shortfall. When districts including Seattle started to propose outsized levy measures, mostly to pay for special education, we called for the governor in November to call a special session of the Legislature to make school districts’ special-education budgets whole — but to no avail.
So, the idea that the House merely ran out of time to deal with this important aspect of special-education policy is not credible. This was a decision.
Nevertheless, the Legislature still has a chance to do better by these students. Some lawmakers are championing the idea of amending the policy changes, which have strong bipartisan support, onto a special-education funding bill.
Even then, the Legislature will not be fully paying, as it should, for special education. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction surveyed the state’s school districts, which reported a total of a $306 million shortfall in special-education funding for the coming school year. Superintendent Chris Reykdal proposed $85 million to start to tackle the shortfall incrementally and the House and Senate’s proposals are well under $100 million.
Still not good enough. But as the legislative session winds down, the Legislature has the chance to improve the educational experience for these children who deserve it. Lawmakers need to act.