Connecticut School Group Makes Special Education Funds a Priority in 2016

By Zahn, Brian | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), March 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Connecticut School Group Makes Special Education Funds a Priority in 2016


Zahn, Brian, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


NEW HAVEN » Officials with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education identified financial support for special education as a top priority for 2016 in a meeting with the New Haven Register's editorial board Thursday.

Another priority for CABE is increasing the focus on cultural sensitivity and representation in schools and on school boards, according to Executive Director Robert Rader and Deputy Director and General Counsel Patrice McCarthy.

They said a primary legislative priority for the organization is to challenge lawmakers to roll back mandates that leave districts bereft of resources.

"The Old Saybrook superintendent did an analysis of their professional development time and said they are spending 40 hours of their 65 hours of professional development time just to fulfill state mandates," McCarthy said, arguing that such requirements take time and money from districts that would be better spent innovating new programs and strategies.

McCarthy said one more thing that is costly for districts is the arbitration process by which parents contest special education programs made available for their child by the district. Currently, the burden of proof is on districts to demonstrate that they are providing sufficient resources for special education students, and McCarthy said scheduling the due process hearing can take months, as individuals involved in the hearings often have full calendars.

"It prolongs the dispute, it pulls professional staff out of the district because they have to be the witnesses and it's not good for anyone," McCarthy said. "It's not good for the family of the special needs child, it's not good for the child and it's not good for the rest of the children in the district."

Instead, McCarthy backs a legislative proposal that would treat these due process hearings like a collective-bargaining process instead of as a dispute, with arbitrators who are disinterested and mutually agreeable to both parties. The proposal would also limit hearings to two days.

"It would make it less of an adversarial type of situation, and might even lead to creative ideas," Rader said.

McCarthy said special education funds are "a real concern" for CABE at the legislative level, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed an $8 million cut to the special education excess-cost grant, which offsets district spending on special education.

"Special education costs continue to rise at a local level, and it's a problem if the grant is capped," she said.

Rader said CABE plans to reach out to local school boards on the importance of representation and inclusive language. Minority teacher recruitment is a priority for the group, as is advocating for people of color to serve on school boards. Rader said CABE is nonpartisan and is uninvolved in municipal party politics, but many viable candidates across the state might not run for their local board of education because they don't know how to. …

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