From The Desk Of
Peter Birdsall Executive Director
For several years now there have been demands for special education reform, but this year’s state budget tries a new approach. The state has approved a significant increased investment in special education ($645.8 million) but has indicated that this funding will only be on-going if there is language in the 2020-21 budget package that “makes statutory changes designed to improve the academic outcomes of individuals with exceptional needs”.
This is a new chapter in a story that has evolved over several decades. In the 1970’s, the federal government passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), with the guarantee of a free appropriate public education. In California, major legislation over half a decade shifted the state from a funding model based on category of disability (e.g., blind, learning handicapped) to one based on type of service (special day class, resource specialist). That legislation, for which I was the lead staff as chief of the legislative office for State Superintendent Wilson Riles, also created the statewide system of Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs).
Concerned by potential financial incentives to identify students for higher funded service settings rather than emphasize early intervention, Dave Gordon, at that time the superintendent of Elk Grove USD, sought a state waiver to instead fund his district on the basis of regular ADA. As it happens, I served as a consultant to Elk Grove in obtaining that waiver, the success of which eventually led to statewide implementation through AB 602.
Although financial incentives (and adequate funding) and special education laws clearly matter, it has become increasingly evident that appropriately serving individuals with exceptional needs is first and foremost a general education responsibility. The California Special Education Task Force Report (2015) emphasizes “one system” and envisions “general education and special education working together seamlessly as one system that is designed to address the needs of all students—as soon as they are apparent.”
Within CCSESA, one of our challenges for the coming year is to help develop and refine the changes to statute that will flow out of the budget agreement, while keeping our focus on the general education/special education collaboration that has the greatest potential to positively impact students, classrooms and schools.