LAO Releases Report on Special Education in California

On November 6, 2019 the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) released their report Overview of Special Education in California which aims to inform fiscal and policy discussions in light of the legislature’s requirement to come up with a number of reforms “to improve academic outcomes of individuals with exceptional needs.” Some of the expected reforms codified in last years budget bill (SB 75) include:

  1. The role of special education local planning areas (SELPA’s) in the delivery of special education services, including increasing their accountability and incorporating them into a statewide system of support.
  2. Expansion of inclusive practice to ensure that every individual with exceptional needs has access to learn in the least restrictive environment.
  3. Opportunities for school districts to receive state and federal support to address disproportionate identification and placement of African American and other student subgroups, as well as disproportionate rates of discipline.
  4. Review of how funds are allocated for special education programs.

Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services and the state spends $13 billion to provide those services. However, the report found that despite the level of spending students with disabilities are not faring so well as many school districts reported poor outcomes for their students with disabilities. The majority of students with disabilities in California were reported as having “relatively mild conditions” while at the same time the number of students with “relatively severe disabilities” increased notably. The notable increase in students with severe disabilities is largely due to a significant rise in the number of students with autism (now about 1 in 50 as compared to 1 in 600 20 years ago).

Among the findings in the report is the fact that the suspension rate for students with disabilities is almost double the statewide rate for all students. In addition, students with disabilities have high rates of absenteeism with almost 1 in 5 missing 10% or more of the school year. This finding is particularly alarming because if we want to improve academic outcomes we have to start by first making sure the students are in school.

The full report:

The Public Charge Regulation and Public Education and Programs Provided by Schools

Tony Thurmond, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction issued a statement last week clarifying the impact that the federal Public Charge regulation will have on student access to K-12 public school education, and programs such as school lunch and summer food service. Essential takeaways include:

Public education is not a public benefit covered by the rule – Attending school will not negatively effect a child or family member’s immigration status
The final rule generally does not apply to programs delivered by kindergarten through grade twelve (K–12) schools, such as school nutrition

The full statement can be found here.

CA Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education Final Report

The CA Assembly Blue Ribbon Commission on Early Childhood Education (BRC) was initiated by Speaker Rendon in February 2017 to identify and develop solutions to create a sustainable early learning system that supports children and families in the early stages of development. Over a 2-year period the Commission held eight hearings, conducted several parent focus groups, engaged stakeholders through in-person meeting and conference calls and surveyed key organizations. From all the information and data that was gathered the BRC developed a set of detailed recommendations, aimed at improving outcomes for young children and families, set forth in the Final Report (April 2019).

The Report focusses on several areas including; Governance and Administration, Family Engagement, Access for Children and Families, Workforce, Quality Improvement, Systems and Infrastructure, Facilities and Supply, Coordination and Alignment, Financing and Parent Focus Group Recommendation Summary. Some of the key findings specific to children with disabilities include:

  • The need to ensure early identification and intervention for all young children
  • ECE degree programs should develop expertise including children with disabilities and special health care needs
  • First 5 will be a key partner on the Task Force to reform our bifurcated funding and administrative system serving children with disabilities and special health care needs.
  • Funding Children with Disabilities and Special Health Care needs: Establish a Task Force with strong parental and provider representation to reform our bifurcated funding and administrative system building on the work of the State’s 2015 Special Education Task Force
  • Long-term goal: Fully fund ECE and other services for children with disabilities so universal screening is accompanied by access to service.
  • Establish a Task Force including CDE, ECE stakeholders, TK-12, DDS, DSS, DPH, First 5s, MHSD, SELPA, Disability Rights CA, Regional Centers, legal advocates, Pediatricians and Head Start, with strong parental and provider representation to reform our bifurcated funding and administrative system.
  • Expand training and support for children with disabilities and connections to early identification and intervention, including to comprehensive services.

Last Tuesday the Assembly Select Committee on Early Childhood Development held an informational hearing providing an Overview of Early Childhood Intervention Services for Children with Special Health Care Needs. Recommendations from the BRC were presented at the hearing with an emphasis on the need to build a comprehensive system of supports for families that begins with a “No Wrong Door” approach. Consistent throughout the hearing was the message that there are too many silos that result in a fragmented system of services. One of the most alarming statistics presented during the hearing was that fact that only 43% of children with special needs get the assistance they need. Many of the recommendations in the BRC report would go a long way in addressing this serious unmet need. The BRC report can be found here: