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Two women speak at a podium in a meeting room.

Credit: Jane Meredith Adams/ EdSource Today

At the podium, Vicki Barber, left, and Maureen O'Leary Burness preview the report on special education. A sign language interpreter is at far left.

Federal and state funding rates for special education would be equalized across California and new special education teachers would be authorized to teach general education if draft recommendations from a task force presented on Wednesday are implemented.

In addition, school districts would include in their new three-year planning documents, known as Local Control and Accountability Plans, details about how they are improving outcomes for special education students, according to a preview of a long-awaited report from the Statewide Special Education Task Force, a group funded by foundations to recommend transformative changes in special education in California.

“We believe the time is now,” said Vicki Barber, co-executive director of the Statewide Special Education Task Force.

A draft version of the report was presented at a meeting of the state Advisory Commission on Special Education, which provides recommendations to state legislators and education administrators. The full report will be presented to the State Board of Education in March.

The brainchild of Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, and Linda Darling-Hammond, chairwoman of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the task force is thought by many to have the clout to push for changes long-sought in special education, including a far-reaching integration of special education students, teachers and programs into general education.

The effort is driven by low 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.

“This is a commitment to move forward,” said Vicki Barber, co-executive director of the task force, who presented the draft report to the advisory commission along with co-executive director, Maureen O’Leary Burness. “We believe the time is now.”

More than $8 billion a year in federal, state and district funds are spent on roughly 702,000 special education students in California each year, with most students requiring less costly services but some requiring intensive interventions, according to a 2013 report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. In 1975, Congress committed to funding 40 percent of the “excess” cost to schools for accommodations for students who receive special education services, as outlined in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But the federal government has never paid more than 20 percent.

In California, federal funding has covered about 12 percent of those excess special education costs, according to the task force – leaving districts paying about 43 percent of the excess costs and the state making up the difference.

Among other issues, the recommendations addressed the need for early identification of children with learning, intellectual or physical disabilities. In addition, the report issued a call for revamped training for new special education and general education teachers, and improved professional development. The goal is to provide all teachers with the tools to provide meaningful academic instruction as well as the ability to address learning disabilities and mental health issues.

Credentialing has long been an issue in special education in California. Amidst a shortage of special education teachers in the 1990s, the state removed the requirement that special education teachers hold credentials in both general and special education. Instead, to hurry teachers into the field, special education teachers need only one credential to teach.

But the speedier accreditation process didn’t help the shortage very much, Burness said. And the lack of a credential in general education hurt efforts to have special education teachers work and teach collaboratively with general education teachers.

“Our ability to serve all kids is more difficult,” Burness said.

Funding and services for special education students vary widely across the state, the report said, and several members of the advisory board voiced their desire to rectify that.

“Equity and access can’t be defined by where you live or who your parents are,” said Matthew Navo, superintendent of the Sanger Unified School District, who is a member of both the advisory board and the task force.

The state distributes special education funding to about 130 regional special education agencies, known as Special Education Local Plan Areas, but each regional agency has a unique per-pupil special education funding rate based on calculations established in the past. The result is that some regional agencies receive twice as much as others, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Report.

A previous effort to equalize state funding rates across the regional agencies was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 as Brown’s signature new state education finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula, became law. But Barber said she was optimistic that Brown was open to taking another look at equalizing special education funding.

“The impact he’s had on all education funding is tremendous,” she said. “But this is the other piece – you don’t want your legacy to be in addressing part of education. We want it to address the whole of education.”

Among other draft recommendations are:

  • Incentive grants for educator preparation programs that combine general education and special education preparation;
  • Scholarships and forgivable loans to teachers-in-training in special education who will commit to three years in the classroom;
  • Creation of a consolidated and integrated special education data system to eliminate duplicate reporting, especially regarding suspensions and expulsions.

Already there are signs of interest in some of the task force’s recommendations, Burness said. The Commission on Teacher Credentialing has formed a workgroup to examine standards for teacher preparation, she said, and task force members had a “great conversation” with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson about the possibility of a creating an interagency group to oversee changes.

Previous efforts to make special education more effective have not resulted in major changes, Burness noted. But the hope is that this one will be different, she said.

At the foundation of the changes is the idea that special education students are general education students first – and all students are part of a school and the responsibility of everyone in the school.

“We are one system dedicated to all students,” Barber said.


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  1. Experienced Educator 1 year ago1 year ago

    IF YOUR CAR HAS A SPECIFIC PROBLEM ie the transmission is faulty. You do not take it to an air conditioning shop to fix it. You take it to a trained mechanic who has experience in working on transmissions. You expect it to be fixed. The mechanic would never say to you that it can't be fixed because of the type of car it is or the company that produced it. Identification of early processing deficits coupled with … Read More

    IF YOUR CAR HAS A SPECIFIC PROBLEM
    ie the transmission is faulty.
    You do not take it to an air conditioning shop to fix it.
    You take it to a trained mechanic who has experience in working on transmissions.
    You expect it to be fixed.
    The mechanic would never say to you that it can’t be fixed because of the type of car it is or the company that produced it.

    Identification of early processing deficits coupled with targeted instruction by trained personnel to address specific deficits and continuity in building those skills from year to year- can also result in children’s ability to function independently and access core curriculum instruction.

  2. Ricardo Nunez 2 years ago2 years ago

    Need more cte class for special education.

  3. Don 2 years ago2 years ago

    SFUSD has been under pressure by the state probability policeman, the Human Rights Commission and others to lower the number of African Americans identified for special ed. SFUSD has some of the lowest performing schools in the state and particularly as it concerns African American achievement. That’s due to the particular demographics of ”The City”. Middle class flight among all groups including AA has left behind a hardened Section 8 core … Read More

    SFUSD has been under pressure by the state probability policeman, the Human Rights Commission and others to lower the number of African Americans identified for special ed. SFUSD has some of the lowest performing schools in the state and particularly as it concerns African American achievement. That’s due to the particular demographics of ”The City”. Middle class flight among all groups including AA has left behind a hardened Section 8 core of far below basic students, many of whom have stereotypical inner city youth-realed problems. Many of these students suffer from poverty-induced traumas and exhibit behavioral problems, ADHD, and other learning deficits for which they have been identified as special ed Still others don’t receive sped services due to the cultural stigma perceived by the black community and lack of buy-in by parents or guardians. In its wisdom, SFUSD has been removing many of the identified students from the special ed rosters as part of a program to address the politically correct proportionality ideal. The result – many students in need don’t get the help they’re entitled to. SFUSD can push the proportionality agenda while removing students from it expensive special ed programs and thereby kill two birds with one stone under the guise of anti-racism. Social justice advocates applaud the effort and students in need are stripped of necessary instructional goals and accommodations. They didn’t know what hit them and SFUSD saves a bundle.

    At the same time Asian parents are often reluctant to have their children identified. The cultural stigma associated with SPED is not exclusive to the AA community. Asian students suffer special ed related needs at average rates, yet they are “under identified’ by the g proportionality police sleeping with one-eye shut. While SFUSD is busy cleaning its rosters of over-identified African American students, it ignores the under-identification of its Asians students – to the detriment of both. Is proportionality just a political tool to advance a racial agenda for budgetary reasons?

    When will we have a “common sense” gap or an “ethics” gap?

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      I should have said “proportionality policeman”.

  4. Andrew 2 years ago2 years ago

    Will teachers be given "time" to use the SPED "tools" that they laboriously acquire? "The goal is to provide all teachers with the tools to provide meaningful academic instruction as well as the ability to address learning disabilities and mental health issues." Or will teachers just be expected to do more, more, more, with no increase in pay, when if they are conscientious, they are already strained past the breaking point in terms of time demands … Read More

    Will teachers be given “time” to use the SPED “tools” that they laboriously acquire?

    “The goal is to provide all teachers with the tools to provide meaningful academic instruction as well as the ability to address learning disabilities and mental health issues.”

    Or will teachers just be expected to do more, more, more, with no increase in pay, when if they are conscientious, they are already strained past the breaking point in terms of time demands and non-stop stress. How is adding more “tools” going to accomplish anything when California continues to have the worst teacher/student staffing ratios in the US?

    Replies

    • Manuel 2 years ago2 years ago

      I suspect, Andrew, that these new tools will allow teachers to do more or, more specifically, to supplant the use of teachers holding special education credentials. After all, isn't that the ultimate intent of "mainstreaming?" They have been telling us that it is for the benefit of the special ed kids so they can "learn to function in the world." But, often, the result is the opposite because they do not get the support services they … Read More

      I suspect, Andrew, that these new tools will allow teachers to do more or, more specifically, to supplant the use of teachers holding special education credentials.

      After all, isn’t that the ultimate intent of “mainstreaming?”

      They have been telling us that it is for the benefit of the special ed kids so they can “learn to function in the world.” But, often, the result is the opposite because they do not get the support services they need and deserve.

      Besides, when the state and the feds tell the local educational agencies that they must use local resources to provide these services, what are they supposed to do? Money doesn’t grow on trees and if they don’t do mainstreaming and overburden teachers and neurotypical students alike then they would have to rob Peter even more to pay Paul.

      As usual, it is a question of money not what is good for the children.

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