New State Budget Pledges Special Ed Support
Funding increase is good news, but specific programs to be funded still being discussed.
California Governor Gavin Newsom presented his May Revision to the Governor’s Budget on May 9
The final budget for special education in California is now $696.2 million, a 21 percent increase from last year.
How the budget increase will be allocated is undecided, but SFUSD special education will be affected.
Are there any concrete plans for this spending?
In an EdSource questionnaire that he filled out before the election, Newsom emphasized his focus on the teacher shortage, specifically with special education, and acknowledged the changes that must be made. “Our state faces an acute teacher shortage, particularly in early education, special education, bilingual education and STEM,” Newsom wrote. “While this is a widespread problem, I understand that California communities with greater proportions of students of color and students living in poverty have been especially impacted by both shortages and high rates of teacher turnover. For California students to succeed, I understand we must keep quality teachers in the classroom.”
To this end, the budget has pledged $89.8 million to a college loan repayment project. This will supply up to $20,000 in one-time loan assumptions to around 4,500 new, credentialed teachers in high demand fields, such as special education. The hope for this program is that it will incentivize teachers into getting their credentials, as the program will be focused on high need schools in low-income districts where it is more difficult to find credentialed teachers.
The budget has also set aside money to help young children with disabilities. This plays into Newsom’s “California Promise, ” a program he has wanted to implement in order to help children at all ages. In the questionnaire, Newsom said. “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.”
In this line, the budget includes $500,000 to be used to allow for educational agencies to acquire federal funds for special education services. This will also be used to help move three-year-olds with disabilities from regional centers to local educational agencies.
Why is such an increase necessary?
With an increase in the number of special education students in recent years, an increase in budget was due. This is especially important due to the lack of federal support in recent years. Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was first passed, the federal government has had a goal of paying 40% of special education related per-student cost. According to Erika Hoffman, a lobbyist for the California School Boards Association, the government has not been doing their job. She told the Sacramento Bee that the government has provided “much less, between 12 and 15 percent of the cost.” According to the Education Commission of the States, this manifested in $1,806 per student, or 15.3% of average student expenditures.
Where do things currently stand?
While Newsom and the legislators have agreed that the increase is necessary, they are far away on where the money will be allocated. The May Revision itself did not provide much information but the Department of Finance’s recent proposal of funding was rejected by the Assembly Budget Committee, sending the legislators back to square one. For more information on the current status of negotiations view this primer.
Lee Fisher, SFUSD Chair of the Community Advisory Committee for special education understands why there is so much debate. “Initially it was going to be earmarked for newer projects,” she said. “Nearly everybody in the special education community pushed back and said ‘wait a minute, we have so much unfunded within special ed, we don’t need to make up new projects.’”
How might this budget increase manifest in SFUSD?
Before getting into changes with the special education funding, it is important to note the interconnectivity of all types of learning in schools. “I think the big point to make is how interrelated everything is,” Fisher said. “Special education doesn’t occur in a vacuum. 75% of students who receive special education services are actually served in general education. When you talk about providing more money for special education you are actually talking about providing more money for gen ed classes as well.”
In terms of actual possible plans, Fisher had a few ideas. She hopes to see money being funneled into incentivizing the credentialing of all teachers, so that they are well equipped with dealing with special education students in their classroom. She also wants to see the support of current teachers with more resources and professional development. Finally, Fisher thinks it is feasible to invest in a new case manager position to take the load off Resource Specialist Program teachers, and increase support of the dyslexia guidelines.
No matter how much money is put into the special education budget, it is clear that extra funding will be needed. According to Fisher, ⅓ of the unrestricted general fund pays for special education supports and services which aren’t provided by the special education budget. While she is unsure at the exact increase of the budget, Fisher notes that her special education advisory group made a formal suggestion for a significant increase in funding for next year. In the 2019-2020 SFUSD Recommended Budget that was recently published, special education is allotted $158,868,145.