The Statewide Special Education Task Force, which toiled for more than a year before producing a 220-page report in March, was recognized in Gov. Jerry Brown’s May revised budget with $60.1 million in proposed funding for several of its recommendations, most prominently increasing access to early interventions for children with special needs.
The revised budget calls for $50 million in ongoing funding for programs recommended by the task force, including $30 million for interventions for special needs children ages birth to 2. Also proposed is $12.1 million for an additional 2,500 spaces in state preschool – with priority given to children with special needs.
These initiatives bring young special education children into the statewide — and national — conversation about the importance of early learning, said Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education and one of the leaders of the task force, which was charged with proposing improvements to special education in California
“It’s a new policy direction,” Kirst said. “Most of the discussion about birth-to-5 and early education has not featured these most vulnerable children.”
Also in the revised budget is $10 million in one-time funding to assist districts in developing data-driven schoolwide behavioral supports. These systems track intervention efforts and discipline reports for all students in a school, not just students in special education, and are designed to help school staff make decisions about how to improve student behavior and academics.
“Most of the discussion about birth-to-5 and early education has not featured these most vulnerable children,” said Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education.
The most widely used system is known as Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions, and its methods have been shown to reduce the use of physical restraints on students, suspensions and expulsions. The system offers three levels of support and intervention. In the first level, all students at a school are taught about how and why they are expected to behave in certain ways — quiet in the library, peaceful in the hallways and so on. If a teacher sends a student to the office, that information is entered into a school database. Administrators then review the data for patterns in referrals by teachers, students, time of day and location. Additional tiers of intervention include increasing classroom structure for a student and creating an individualized plan to help a student resolve conflict and avoid meltdowns.
The revised budget affirmed the thrust of the task force’s conclusions, said Vicki Barber, co-executive director of the Statewide Special Education Task Force. “It’s a very strong signal that the recommendations in the report are worthy of consideration.”
The task force report was driven by the need to improve the achievement rates of special education students, 90 percent of whom have no cognitive impairment. Speech and language impairment is the largest category of students in special education, followed by students with learning disabilities.
The report didn’t put a dollar figure on all 68 of its recommendations, except to indicate it would be “a huge amount of money,” said Matthew Navo, superintendent of Sanger Unified School District and a member of the task force.
He added, “$60 million doesn’t go very far, but it’s a start. It is a way for the governor to say we value the work the task force did, and we’re going to put some money in those areas.”