• Concerns voiced around school transportation, special education, enrollment
  • See proposed budget as ‘a good start’

By Patric Haerle
Washington State Journal

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget for the upcoming biennium calls for $570 million in new education spending, but many parents and educators have expressed frustration that the governor’s budget does not adequately fund additional transportation and special education needs fueled by COVID-19.

Of the education spending, the governor proposed $400 million for schools to expand learning opportunities and potentially add instructional time for their students.

Additionally, the budget also includes $79 million to support broadband connections for families across Washington, $32 million for school support staff such as counselors, $14.8 for paraeducators and $3.2 million for special education.

School buses, especially in rural areas, have been especially crucial to public schools during the pandemic, Ben Ferney, Superintendent of Valley School District, located north of Spokane, told Senate Ways and Means Committee members Jan. 12.

“Buses are our lifeline to our students,” Ferney said. His district provides transportation for itself and three other small nearby districts. “Getting food to our students who are spread out over many miles has been critical. We use buses for curriculum delivery. Our issue is not lack of devices, but lack of internet. So we were delivering USBs, hardcopies and returning homework through busing.”

Ramona Hattendorf from the Arc of King County, a group that champions disability rights explained that the pandemic has been especially hard on students with special needs.

“The budget does not acknowledge the reality that most of our state’s 143,000 students with [individualized education plans] have not been well served, or served at all during the pandemic,” Hattendorf said.. ”When developmental disabilities are present students need consistent access to these types of supports with skill building and when they don’t have it, they regress quite a bit.”

Witnesses at the hearing also raised concerns around the need to stabilize funding for enrollment, which is down in almost every school district in the state. Total student enrollment in Washington public schools was down close to 31,000 students this September compared with 2019.

In his inaugural address on Jan. 13, Inslee touched briefly on the struggles students, parents, and educators have faced during the pandemic and how the state needs to continue to support them.

“I’m looking forward to working with you to remediate the impacts our students have suffered because of this pandemic,” Inslee said in the pre-recorded speech. “No one today has a single answer, we just have to provide the support these students need; whether it’s academic, mental health or nutrition.”

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