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Children’s Advocates Urge Supreme Court to Keep the Heat on the Legislature

The Washington Supreme Court should consider the unmet needs of students with disabilities when enforcing the State’s paramount duty to fully fund education, The Arc of Washington State and The Arc of King County said in a “friend of the court” brief filed today.  

The Arcs joined with other advocates for children with disabilities in filing the brief in McCleary v State of Washington, including Teamchild, Seattle Special Education PTA, Bellevue Special Needs PTA, Highline Special Needs PTA, Washington Autism Alliance & Advocacy, Open Doors for Multicultural Families, and several individuals who professionally support children with disabilities and their families in medical, clinical and educational settings.  It is the first amicus brief in the landmark school-funding case to focus on special education.

“More than 125,000 students in Washington have disabilities requiring special education.  For a fair chance to succeed, these children must have special instruction designed to meet their individual needs,” the advocacy coalition’s brief says, adding, “the Legislature has paid for special education as if every student needs the same funding, instead of fully funding the actual costs of properly educating children with disabilities.”
The Supreme Court has been imposing sanctions of $100,000 a day against the State until it adopts a complete plan for complying with the constitutional duty to fully finance basic education.  The State is asking for the sanctions to be lifted, but an analysis by The Arcs found serious gaps in funding of special education, which is part of basic education.  For example, new state data shows:

•The State allocates money as if no more than 12.7 percent of each district’s students in Kindergarten through 12th grade are enrolled in special education, but at least 120 school districts currently have a greater percentage of special education students than the state pays for;

•Large districts such as Seattle and Spokane are spending millions of dollars more on special education than the state provides, using local tax levies to make up for the wide discrepancy between actual costs and state allocations.

Special education falls within the Legislature’s definition of “basic education,” which must provide broad educational opportunities and prepare all children to be self-supporting citizens.  The amicus brief explains that the Legislature has overlooked the special needs of children with disabilities in planning funding reforms.  In addition, the brief cites concerns that the current state budget grossly underfunds paraeducators, who are estimated to provide nearly 60% of direct instruction to special education students in Washington State.

“Special education funding in Washington is uncoupled from the true costs of educating students with disabilities,” said Sue Elliott, executive director of The Arc of Washington State.  “The funding formula underestimates the true incidence of disability in the student population as well as the actual amounts that school districts must spend to meet their needs.”

Two reports to the state legislature outline the need for standards and other considerations in funding paraeducators in Washington:  http://www.pesb.wa.gov/home/para-work-group.

A report citing some of the inadequacies of the current public education system to address the needs of students with disabilities was published in November 2014 by the Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds, available at http://oeo.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/SpecialEdTaskForce-Report_Nov2014.pdf.  The report recommended a Blue Ribbon Commission to tackle the unmet needs of vulnerable students with disabilities, creating an expert body that would lead a coordinated multi-agency, cross-disciplinary approach within the education system.

“Special education funding has eluded reforms in many important ways over the years. Classrooms designed in ways that are inaccessible to students with disabilities negatively impact all students, and, moreover, lead to poor educational outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Stacy Gillett, Executive Director for The Arc of King County.

To read the full brief, click the links below.
Appendix to Motion
Arc of WA Amicus Brief 6 7 16
Arc Motion to File Amicus Brief 6 7 16

The Arc of Washington State and The Arc of King County promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

For more information:
Stacy Gillett, Executive Director, The Arc of King County sgillett@arcofkingcounty.org
Sue Elliott, Executive Director, The Arc of Washington State sue@arcwa.org
Katherine George, Of counsel, Harrison-Benis LLP kgeorge@hbslegal.com