Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Marty Brewer says state funding for special education is woefully inadequate. (Paul Gottlieb/for Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Marty Brewer says state funding for special education is woefully inadequate. (Paul Gottlieb/for Peninsula Daily News)

Special ed funding boost moves forward

Peninsula superintendents say it’s sorely needed

By Paul Gottlieb

Special to the Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — North Olympic Peninsula school districts would receive extra special education funding under new laws steamrolling their way through the state Legislature.

But will the millions provided by either bill be enough that lawmakers won’t soon be revisiting the issue?

Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5311, which increases the 13.5 percent state funding cap for special education expenditures to 15 percent, passed the Senate 48-0.

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1436 removes the cap by the 2027-28 school year. It passed the House 94-2.

Special education funding multipliers that determine the cost per student would be increased to a higher percentage in E2SSB 5311’s 15 percent cap than in 1436’s cap removal plan.

HB 1436 would cost $180 million in the 2023-25 biennium, while E2SSB 5311’s price tag is $362 million, according to the fiscal notes for each bill at leg.wa.gov.

The cap hike to 15 percent is supported by state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal, who also favors removing the cap.

It’s also addressed in Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed 2023-25 budget, which allocates $74 million for lifting the cap to15 percent and adds to the multiplier for 3- to 5-year-olds.

The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee held a public hearing on the cap removal bill Wednesday.

The House Education Committee, which had the first hearing on the cap increase bill Tuesday, could move it forward at a 1:30 p.m. executive session Monday that will be broadcast on tvw.org.

School superintendents at Quillayute, Sequim, Port Townsend and Port Angeles districts said in recent interviews the funding provided by both bills is sorely needed.

“Special education is the top priority, the Number One issue that could come out of the Legislature this year,” Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Marty Brewer said.

“That would help not only Port Angeles but districts across our region and districts across the state.”

Brewer said as of March 1, there were 627 students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), or 18 percent of the district’s enrollment.

The average cost per IEP student is $15,629.

“Our growing cost in SPED [special education] have been impacting the [Educational Programs and Operations] levy which is an enrichment levy not intended to fund basic programs, by definition, state definition,” Brewer said.

“When we take all of our federal SPED dollars and all of our state SPED dollars, we are pushing out-of-pocket cost, beyond those two funding sources, is pushing $2 million.

“And that’s just growing, because just in the fall we had 600 SPED students and now we have 627, so our special ed population continues to grow.”

He said he was concerned about the lack of timeliness of progressively removing the cap as called for in the House bill.

“I have concern for that. We have a need now. Thinking out a couple of biennial budgets at the state level before we get quote, unquote, full funding. A lot can change between now and then. We need full funding now.

“And it’s not just Port Angeles.”

Brewer cited Sequim, which is 2.8 percent, or 111 students, over the 13.5 percent cap, Sequim schools Superintendent Regan Nickels said Thursday.

The district’s per pupil special education expenditures is $9,535, which is added to the Basic Education allocation per student of $9,606, so the district is paying $1.06 million in district funds for the unfunded 111 students.

“When the enrichment dollars, when they are going to required services that students need to access basic education, it doesn’t allow us to consider what the levy dollars could be doing in other regards,” Nickels said.

The district also has to be prepared for students with special needs moving into the district, often requiring more staffing and unforeseen expenditures.

“It causes us to project, and be conservative, because we know those expenses could show up,” Nickels said.

“To me, special education is a fundamental right for students to be accessing.”

At the Quillayute School District, 620 students out of 3,500, which includes about 950 online students. receiving special education at an average cost of $17,000 compared to $14,000 for non-special-education students.

Superintendent Diana Reaume said the district is above the threshold, covering about 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent of special education expenditures.

“One of the things I know is true is that we’re seeing students that have more serious needs, identified needs, for additional services, so how do you keep up with all of that, only through your local budget?” Reaume said.

Port Townsend School Superintendent Linda Rosenbury said the district has 168 students with disabilities and is exceeding the 13.5 percent threshold by about 0.5 percent.

“The Port Townsend School District has done a lot of work over the past few years to ensure that we’re providing early intervention to reduce the classification of students for special education, Rosenbury said

“Obviously we’d like the cap to be lifted … as soon as possible, but we know the Legislature has a lot of competing priorities, and so we’re hoping for some movement on special education funding for next year.”

Rosenbury said because the district is not fully funded for special education, district employees spend time and hours to apply for Safety Net funding that should already be included in the state’s special education allocation.

The increase is supported by the 24th District delegation that represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and more than half of Grays Harbor County.

The measure could be voted out of the House Education Committee at 1:30 p.m. Monday as a first step toward passage.

Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Port Townsend Democrat, said Friday that ESHB 1436 appears to have less chance of passage.

Tharinger is on the Appropriations Committee that moved it forward out of committee.

He and Rep. Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles Democrat, voted for HB 1436.

Tharinger said it’s hard to predict what might pass the Legislature by April 23, the last day of the session.

“We’ll be seeing additional funding for special education by the time we leave town,” Tharinger said.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Port Angeles said he supports increased funding.

“I want to work hard to get school districts more special ed funding, and the best path to do that is what I’ll support,” he said.

“I get the feeling that there’s not a lot of support in the Legislature to completely remove the cap, but that bill could be amended, too.”

Chapman, too, supports allocating more money for special education.

“Often we don’t know what the budget writers are working on,” he said.

“One [chamber] could fund it at one level and the other body could fund it at a different level, and the budget would have to be melded together at some point,” he said.

“I’m at the mercy of the budget writers.”

Tharinger, who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, said proposed House and Senate operations, capital and transportation budgets will be issued by March 31.


Legislative Reporter Paul Gottlieb, a former senior reporter at Peninsula Daily News, can be reached at cpaulgottlieb@gmail.com.

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