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Kansas governor renews push to invest in special education services

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly renewed her emphasis on comprehensive funding of special education services in Kansas as she visited a Topeka school Tuesday.

Kansas law requires the state to provide at least 92 percent of the additional costs of special education, but the state hasn’t done so since 2011. The Democratic governor’s proposed budget would add $72.4 million to education funding special every year for the next five years to meet the legal requirement.

Republicans have shown no willingness to send more money to public schools. The House last week adopted a resolution calling on the federal government to support special education funding and passed legislation that would create a task force to study how schools use special education funding.

Kelly met with special needs students and their instructors as she toured classrooms at Jardine Elementary and Middle Schools. She also participated in a panel discussion with educators and parents on the importance of special education funding.

“We can’t leave a single student behind,” Kelly said. “Every student deserves resources and support to succeed in the classroom. My budget puts Kansas on track to fully fund special education for the first time in over a decade. We owe it to our students to fully fund special education.”

Jardine Schools, which serve nearly 300 special education students, provide intensive classroom services, reinforced structured teaching in a visual environment, academic behavioral support services, language services, talent services, and a preschool intervention program.

School staff introduced the governor to various classrooms that provide such services and a quiet room that provides shelter for children with autism. Some of the students asked pointed questions.

“Do you think you will ever increase teachers’ salaries?” asked sixth grader Calvin Beck.

Kelly told the boy she has been working to put money into schools since she took office.

“It’s up to the school board to decide if teachers get a raise,” Kelly said. “Then you need to take your application to the school board. I give him the money. They are the ones who decide what to do with it”.

Another student bonded with the governor over their mutual joy in math.

“It’s so much fun problem solving,” Kelly said.

During the panel discussion, Sarah Meyer, a parent of two students receiving special education services, said that people often don’t think about how things that are simple for most people can be difficult for others.

“One of my kids has a difference in learning math, so something as simple as counting money or learning time isn’t easy to figure out,” Meyer said. “Those extra supports, those extra teachers on site, those small groups that have individualized learning, are so necessary to have even those basic skills that we often take for granted.”

House Speaker Dan Hawkins addressed the topic in his weekly newsletter, where he highlighted the failure of the federal government to provide its share of funding for special education. Legislation passed by Congress in 1990 promised to provide the state with up to 40% of special education funding, but only provided about 13%.

“One of the Governors talking points in his re-election campaign has been full funding for special education, but can you imagine the good that could be done for our KS SPED departments if the federal government keeps its side of the deal? ” Hawkins wrote.

Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, complained that “Democrats may not be so willing to put their money where their mouth is” because all but three opposed creating a task force to study — but did not finance – special education in Kansas schools. The task force, Hawkins said, will bring in “subject matter experts” to look at how schools are using special education funding “and evaluate what we need to do differently.”

“One might think that by criticizing SPED funding, one would like to be part of the solution, but perhaps for some, that’s not the case,” Hawkins said.

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