Special Education in California has been showered with more than $1 billion in new state and federal money in recent weeks, enough to potentially transform a system that’s been underfunded for decades.
The California state budget approved includes $656 million in new ongoing funding for special education, including a 4.05% increase to the base funding rate. The state also allotted $550 million in one-time funds for addressing disputes between parents and school districts, which are expected to surge in the next few months as students return to the classroom.
In March, the Biden administration set aside $122 billion for schools as part of the American Rescue Plan to help students, including those with disabilities, catch up after a year of distance learning. Of the total, California received $301 million, more than any other state. Recently, the administration added $3 billion more for special education, with about $450 million earmarked for children ages 0-5 with disabilities. Identifying children with disabilities early and connecting them to services leads to better outcomes over the long term, according to a 2020 report by Policy Analysis for California Education.
Resources on new special education funding: 2021-22 California budget bill: U.S. Department of Education releases $3 billion to support children with disabilities
IDEA Part B Dispute Resolution
The state’s investment in special education dispute resolution may also have a big impact. During the pandemic, many students with disabilities fell behind because of the challenges of delivering special services virtually. At the same time, some districts have been slow to assess students who might be eligible for special education or need their learning plans updated, leading to a huge backlog in some districts.
The ADR process is less formal than a due process hearing and intends to maintain positive relationships between families and LEA staff by working collaboratively toward solutions. ADR is a voluntary method of resolving disputes. California's commitment to encouraging LEAs to resolve disagreements with families collaboratively and informally whenever possible, and in anticipation of an increased number of local disputes related to the COVID–19 pandemic and special education distance learning, the state legislature appropriated $8,600,000 in the 2020 Budget Act to be allocated to SELPAs to assist LEAs with establishing and improving local ADR.
It is important to remember that typically when settling any dispute, a settlement agreement is involved that may include a waiver of FAPE for a select period of time. While an attorney might not be present during an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) the process typically involves the signing of a legally binding settlement. We encourage all our Special Education families to know their rights before participating in an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
You do not have to navigate the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process alone. We specialize in helping families seeking compensatory education, reimbursement for privately funded services, and placement.
Assembly Bill No. 130
Know Your Rights: Students with Disabilities and Independent Study Programs
Many families whose children cannot safely return to school in person face confusion about what school districts must offer as an alternative for the 2021-22 school year. Because funding and requirements for distance learning expired at the end of June 2021, California passed a new law in July to fill the gap. This law, AB 130, changed existing requirements regarding Independent Study Programs (ISP) in California to enable schools to offer an alternative to in-person instruction. The law changed ISP to better meet the needs of schools and families.
Independent study is an alternative education program that addresses individual student needs and learning styles and allows students to complete their academics outside the traditional classroom setting. It is not new but has been modified to address the needs of students at risk because of COVID-19. Independent study generally takes place outside the regular classroom. Districts have a great deal of flexibility in terms of how they design and implement their ISP.
Public schools cannot categorically exclude students with disabilities from ISP. However, the law requires that schools place any student with an IEP in an ISP only through the IEP process. This means that schools must hold an IEP meeting and the IEP team must determine that the ISP is appropriate for the student.
Resources Guide EdSource: National Center for Youth Law