Erin Carden received what has been a somewhat normal phone call for her in the past year. Eagle Peak school authorities in Spokane needed her to come and pick up her 16-year-old son who was being suspended after refusing to cooperate with teachers.
Her son was handcuffed and lying on the floor shirt draped across his shoulders, while she saw him slamming his head into the ground time and time again. Carden explained "He kept on saying 'I just want to kill myself.I just want to kill myself.' "What wasn't normal was the scene she came to see upon arrival.
This was by far the worst incident Carden had experience with her son during the past year of several outbursts and altercations between her son and school authorities. Carden points to the underfunding of the special education system as the main culprit or the crux of the issue. She states, "There are so many great teachers and so much potential in this school district. They need the resources to do something with that." Carden also maintained, "We can't just put a whole bunch of policies in place and say these are the new rules and not put our money where our mouth is," she said, "Otherwise, it's just this punitive experience for teachers."
Carden's son has mild autism, anxiety, and oppositional defiance disorder, along with ADHD. This school year he was sent home at least 15 times and during the last school year, he was sent home and or suspended almost 30 times. He has changed schools six or seven times and was arrested for the first time at seven or eight years old.
According to data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, almost 8 percent of all disciplinary action in 2015 was taken on special education students across the state.
According to Stacy Gillet, the director of King County's ARC, a disabilities advocacy group the funding issue or lack thereof is a problem across the whole state and doesn't seem to be fixable anytime soon. She said, "We hear from families it's really a struggle to get services for their child."
Despite the McCleary v.State lawsuit (In January 2007, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of two families against the State of Washington for not meeting its constitutional obligation to amply fund a uniform system of education.By February 2010, King County Superior Court had declared the State out of compliance with Article IX of the Washington State Constitution.) And final ruling (Supreme Court rejected the State's claim that the State's K‐12 funding level complies with Article IX, section 1: The State "has failed to adequately fund the 'education' required by Article IX, section 1. Substantial evidence supports this conclusion"; moreover, "the State has consistently failed to provide adequate funding") Gillet said state officials and lawmakers will still have not increased the funding for special education to any significance.
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The problem with either budget is neither of them changes the policy cap set in place for what the state has to pay districts for special education services. The cap allows for the funding of 12.7 percent of special education students, however, according to the court document 120 districts in Washington have more than 12.7 percent enrollments of special education students, this includes Spokane Public Schools.Both of the budget proposals from Democrats and Republicans will leave thousands of students in need underserved. Both proposals leave 8,688 students without state funding for special needs, according to a friend of the court brief filed by the Arc of Washington State in the McCleary lawsuit.
The attorney who filed the amicus brief Katherine George said 'Here is a group that's going to be shortchanged intentionally.' It's part of the state's formula." And more so "To impose a cap on one vulnerable group of students is just blatantly unconstitutional."
Nearly 14 percent of students qualified for special education during 2017, which comes to around 4,400 students K-12. The district has an enrollment of 31,000. Spokane Public Schools administrators agree that special education is underfunded, although they feel that it's not negatively impacting services.
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Linda McDermott, the district's chief financial officer said during the most recent school year, Spokane Public Schools used $5 million in levy money to fund special education. The total special education budget was $47.6 million.Although the state offers districts some backup funding, known as safety net funding, it doesn't cover the difference.Although Shelley Redinger Spokane Public Schools Superintendent had this to say, "I really do worry about public education if we don't make progress for special education funding." However, then she added this "I would say we're having to be more and more creative. I would say we've never said 'No, we can't.' "
According to court documents, last week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington filed a suit against OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) on behalf of special education students who have "been wrongfully disciplined for behavior related to the disabilities."
Although the suit doesn't deal directly with funding issues, Gillet believes they are connected.
Gillet says from her conversations with lawmakers, she feels they think it's too complicated an issue to handle. She said "Yeah, it's sort of this invisible problem. Much like the population is an invisible group.I guess it goes hand in hand."