#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding - AZEdNews
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#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding


A Woman Talks About Why She's At The House Education Committee On Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo By Morgan Willis/AZEdNews

People attending the House Education meeting March 2 voiced their support for legislation, including Senate Bill 1060 that would raise special education funding.

Here’s what Vicki Alger, who was there to support SB 1061, said to AZEdNews. Alger is president and CEO of Vicki Murray & Associates LLC in Scottsdale, a research fellow at Independent Institute, and author of the book Failure: The Federal “Misedukation” of America’s Children.

Video by Morgan Willis/ AZEdNews: #LegislativeLegit: Parents’ rights 3/2/2020

One bill the House Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to Monday was Senate Bill 1060, which would increase special education funding weights for public district and charter schools students with Group B disabilities and appropriate $5 million in fiscal year 2021 to the Extraordinary Special Needs Fund.

The estimated increase in the support level weights would total about $55 million per year in new funding, according to Arizona School Boards Association‘s Governmental Relations team.

ASBA supports this bill sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen (R-LD 6).

Arizona’s formula funding for special education is currently $100 million less than what district and charter schools spend to provide the services required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, according to a recent analysis by Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for Arizona Association of School Business Officials and ASBA.

“Every district is different, but that’s a pretty sizeable gap,” Dr. Aportela said at a Legislative Workshop hosted by Arizona School Boards Association in November 2019.

At a March 4 AASBO meeting, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said, “One bill we’re particularly excited about is SB 1060, which would increase special education funding by over $50 million. That has been so needed for so many years.”

Supt. Hoffman, who worked in special education for many years as a speech language pathologist, said as she’s visited schools around the state, “I can’t tell you how many times a district has offered me a job and even recently on a school tour a principal asked me if I had time to help with a speech evaluation.”

“It’s especially challenging for schools in our rural communities to recruit special education teachers and specialists,” Supt. Hoffman said.

About 80 to 85 percent of special education students today are classified as having Group A disabilities, while about 15 to 20 percent have Group B disabilities, said Dr. Chuck Essigs, a former special education teacher who is director of governmental relations for Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

Disabilities included in Group A include specific learning, emotional, mild intellectual, speech language impairment, developmental delay and other health impairments, while disabilities in Group B include orthopedic impairment, preschool students with disabilities, moderate intellectual, visual impairment, hearing impairment, autism, severe intellectual, multiple disabilities and severe sensory impairments.

“The two largest special education populations today are learning disabilities and speech,” Dr. Essigs said.

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For example, Arizona’s per-pupil funding formula will generate about $63,000 in special education funding for a school of 100 students through Group A weights – “that additional little bit for every student to cover the special ed expenditures for students with mild disabilities,” Dr. Aportela said.

“If one school has only two students with mild disabilities out of its 100 students and spends about $8,000 total for special education services – or $4,000 per student – they’re going to have $55,000 left over to spend on other priorities,” Dr. Aportela said. “That could be a gifted program, it could be career and technical education, it could be raising teachers salaries.”

But if another school serves 25 students with mild disabilities out of their 100 students, they spend about $100,000 on special education services – or $4,000 per student. Now, that school has to find $37,000 of other expenses to cut to fund these federally mandated special education services, Dr. Aportela said.

Only part of the special education funding gap is explained by the Group A issue. “Part of it is that we really haven’t recalibrated all of the weights since at least 2007,” and another is that Group B weights for special education services should be updated to levels that “are appropriate given the cost of providing services today,” Dr. Aportela said.

“Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act dollars are supposed to be covering special education. They don’t. They cover statewide about 16 percent of all expenditures,” Dr. Aportela said. “The way that those dollars are distributed functions a lot like the Group A weight.”

Video by Arizona Capitol Television: House Education Committee meeting 3/2/2020

The bill would also transfer administration of the Extraordinary Special Needs Fund from the State Board of Education to the Arizona Department of Education, lets public schools submit claims to ADE for students receiving special education services that have incurred current year costs of at least three times the statewide per-pupil funding average, and appropriates $5 million in fiscal year 2021 to the fund.

Also, SB 1060 increases the support weight for the following special education funding categories – self-contained programs for students with multiple disabilities, autism and severe intellectual disabilities from 5.833 to 6.024, and developmental delays, emotional disabilities, mild intellectual disabilities, a specific learning disability, a speech/language impairment, and other health impairments from 0.003 to 0.114.

“Arizona’s special education funding system is complicated like everything in education, and it’s been over 40 years since we have changed the various funding weights,” Sen. Allen told the House Education Committee

#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding Sen-Sylvia-Allen
Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen presents on her bill SB 1060 to the House Education Committee on March 2, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Sen. Allen said she met with stakeholders throughout last summer to develop this bill, and she plans to work with them again this summer to work on more special education funding issues.

Right now, these weights are only providing on average about $12 a year added to the per-pupil funding formula for students who receive special education for these disabilities, “so this is extremely underfunded,” Sen. Allen said. “It’s time to elevate these weights.”

This bill focuses on “the lowest weight, which has never been increased since we implemented the funding formula in the early 1980s,” said Meghaen Dell’Artino, owner of Public Policy Partners, on behalf of the Education Finance Reform Group.

#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding Meghaen-Dell-Artino
Meghaen Dell’Artino speaks to the House Education Committee about SB 1060 on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“Most of the kids we are talking about are spread across both the districts and charter schools and they are typically kids found in the classroom setting that might need additional emotional and behavioral resources in that classroom,” Dell’Artino said.

Aaron Wonders, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Arizona Department of Education, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman and the Arizona Dept. of Ed both support SB 1060.

#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding Aaron-Wonders-1024x579
Aaron Wonders, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Arizona Department of Education, tells legislators why the Arizona Dept. of Ed and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman support SB 1060 during the House Education Committee Meeting on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

Schools face challenges in providing supports to students with special needs, and “a 2007 cost study revealed an approximately $100 million gap between what schools are receiving for special education and what they are spending,” Wonders said.

“Today any school leader or special education director will tell you that that gap is even greater,” Wonders said.

“The skills taught in our special education programs extend far beyond the classroom into homes, playgrounds, birthday parties, and eventually into the workplace,” Wonders said.

“But in conversations with our school leaders, we’ve heard countless times that our special education system is underfunded and leaves many schools with difficult choices of where to make cuts to provide services. Choices that they should not have to make,” Wonders said.

#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding Aaron-Wonders-2
Aaron Wonders, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Arizona Department of Education, says he supports SB 1060 at the House Education Committee Meeting on Monday, March 2, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“We are encouraged to see bipartisan support in the Senate for increasing funding for our special education system with Senate Bill 1060, and it would take an important first step in filling the gap our schools have been trying to bridge,” Wonders said.

Rep. Isela Blanc, (D-LD 26), voted in support of the bill and said, “The State of Arizona hasn’t really invested in education, and I know that we’ve not done very much with the special education formula, so this is definitely a good move.”

#LegislativeLegit: Bill would raise special ed funding Rep-Isela-Blanc-1024x577
Rep. Isela Blanc explains her vote on Senate Bill 1060 during the House Education Meeting on March 2, 2020. Photo courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

“It’s going to be an important move, especially since there is a potential that at the federal level, they are considering cutting eight percent from our education (budget) overall across the United States, and that is eventually going to trickle down and negatively impact us,” Rep. Blanc said.

“Those cuts are going to hit our back pocket here in the state, and we’re going to have to start making more investments, especially since we are starting to see higher numbers of special education needs in our state,” Rep. Blanc said.

Rep. Aaron Lieberman, (D-LD 28), thanked Sen. Sylvia Allen for bringing SB 1060 forward and “taking on this fight. Literally, for part of a decade everyone has known this is a huge issue, especially for so many of our parents who are fighting to get the services their children are really guaranteed.”

“This is definitely a step in the right direction in starting to put investment toward our schools,” said Rep. Lieberman, noting he hopes Appropriations Chair Regina Cobb, (R-LD 5), knows “how important it is to get this in the budget.”

Senate Ed action on Tuesday

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee passed HB 2109 unification; consolidation; notice; ballot language, which ASBA is neutral on; HB 2110 schools; employees; employment; discipline, which ASBA supports; HB 2111 schools; resources; services; consolidation grants, which ASBA supports; HB 2121 election pamphlet submittals; identification required, which ASBA is monitoring; HB 2287 common school districts; unification; budget; which ASBA supports.; HB 2448 public schools; innovation plans, which ASBA is neutral on; HB 2682 schools; instruction; Holocaust; genocides, on which ASBA is neutral.

HB 2625 civics celebration day; civics education passed the Senate Government committee 5-1. ASBA is monitoring the bill.

Ed bills in floor action Tuesday

The Senate Committee of the Whole passed SB 1122 school consolidation elections; majority vote, which ASBA is opposed to; SB 1403 fourth-year funding; CTEDs, which ASBA supports; and SB 1503 school employees; pupils; electronic communications, which ASBA is neutral on.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB 1523 mental health omnibus. ASBA is neutral on the bill.

The Senate passed SB 1587 pupils; unpaid school meal fees; on which ASBA is neutral.

Other ed bills House Ed heard Monday

In other business on Monday, the House Education Committee gave a due pass recommendation to Senate Bill 1036, which would repeal the requirement that the Arizona Department of Education contract with a third-party administrator to help with the financial administration of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts or vouchers. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chair Sylvia Allen (R-LD 6).

Legislators on the House Education Committee also gave a due pass recommendation to SB 1234, which would eliminate the reductions in district additional assistance and charter additional assistance in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 and restore them both to their statuatory baseline in fiscal year 2021. Arizona School Boards Association supports this bill sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-LD 6).

Lawmakers on the House Education Committee also passed SB 1061, which would require the Arizona Department of Education to create and post on its website a handbook of parental rights with information on state laws, the Parents’ Bill of Rights and information on parents access to school curriculum as well as require each school district and charter school to post a link to the Arizona Dept. of Education’s handbook of parental rights on their own websites. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-LD 6).

They also passed SB 1444, which would require the Arizona Department of Education to classify a student absence due to mental or behavioral health as an excused absence and allow the Arizona Dept. of Ed to adopt guidelines and rules to determine what constitutes a mental or behavioral health absence. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Sen. Sean Bowie (D-LD 18).

Floor action on ed bills on Monday

On Monday, SB 1403 passed the Senate Committee of the Whole on Monday with a floor amendment. SB 1403 would let career and technical education districts and districts or charter schools that are part of one to include students in grades 9-12 and the school year immediately following graduation in the calculation of student count or Average Daily Membership (ADM) and specifies that funding can be provided for no more than four years for the same student. ASBA supports this bill sponsored by Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-LD 17).

The Senate Committee of the Whole passed SB 1503 with a floor amendment, which would outline policies and procedures for electronic communication between school employees and students. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer (R-LD 20).

SB 1587 also passed the Senate Committee of the Whole. The bill would prohibits schools from shaming, treating differently, or serving an alternate meal to a student with unpaid meal fees. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Sen. Martin Quezada (D-LD 29).

The Senate passed SB 1446, which would requires all school district governing boards and charter school governing bodies that issue identification cards to high school students, community colleges and public universities to include phone numbers for a local and national suicide prevention hotline, phone numbers for local crisis centers and information on how to access text-based emotional support servies. ASBA is neutral on this bill sponsored by Sen. Sean Bowie (D-LD 18).

SB 1059 was also passed by the Senate. The bill would establishes new distributions for revenue from Proposition 301 and contains a conditional repeal. ASBA is monitoring this bill sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen (R-LD 6).

The Senate also passed SB 1454 on Monday, which alters the college credit by examination incentive program to include bonuses for teachers, school districts, and charter schools for students who complete a dual enrollment course with a passing grade. ASBA supports this bill sponsored by Sen. Tony Navarette (D-LD 30).

Meanwhile, lawmakers failed to pass SB 1670 on Monday, and the bill’s sponsor Sen. David Gowan (R-LD 14) made a motion to reconsider it. The bill would rename the Public Safety Inoperability Fund to the Arizona School Safety Fund, require that it only be used for school safety programs, and appropriate $1.5 million in fiscal year 2021, $3M in FY 2022, and $3M in FY 2023. ASBA is monitoring this bill.

More information about legislation

Information about education bills moving through the Arizona House and Senate is courtesy of Arizona School Boards Association‘s Governmental Relations team.

You can click here to sign up here for their Daily In Session Update email.

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