After more than a year of work, an Arkansas legislative task force is preparing to release a report with recommendations on how the state can better meet the needs of special education students.
The Task Force on Best Practices for Special Education met for the last time Wednesday. It consists of a couple dozen educators, advocates and legislators.
Sen. Uvalde Lindsey (D-Fayetteville) is the chair of the task force. He says the report will call for better communication among the various groups and interests that serve special needs kids.
“We say, tear down the silos that isolate each one of us, each one of our particular divisions or organizations or programs and help us just sort of blend all the best of what we do together into a cohesive delivery of service that always, always focuses on the needs of the child,” he says.
Lindsey says increasing funding for services to kids with “catastrophic” --or high cost--disabilities will be another component.
He says annual funding to serve the catastrophic cases has been flat since the General Assembly passed legislation in response to a court order in the landmark case Lakeview School District No. 25 v. Huckabee. For nearly a decade, Lindsey says funding to serve the catastrophic cases has been flat at $11 million, while he says there are currently $30 million in documented needs. The number of kids who have severe disabilities has gone from less than 500 to nearly 1400 over the last five years, he says.
“Almost three times the number of kids—same amount of money. What does that mean? It means we’re under funding the needs of those kids that have a catastrophic issue of disability that is expensive to address and to treat and to make sure that child receives an adequate and equitable education,” Lindsey says.
The task force will recommend a $19 million funding increase for services to kids with the high-cost, severe disabilities. Also, there will be a request for a nearly $105 million increase to improve the ratio of special needs teachers for every 500 students from 2.9 to 3.3. Lindsey has said the task force would recommend an incremental funding increase to occur over several years.
The recommendation to fund an increase for special needs teachers is based on findings from a 2014 study by Picus Odden and Associates, an outside consultant hired to assess the state’s school funding matrix and school broadband services.
The Special Ed task force has to finalize the report on recommendations by September 1st. According to the statute that created the group, the Governor, House and Senate leaders and chairs on legislative committees are to receive copies.
Lindsey says Lampkin was a “guiding light to many of us in the education community,” noting that she spent nearly 20 years as a special education teacher in her three decades of teaching in Monticello and Drew County.
“We’re trying to build the special education task force report…in honor of the great life that Sheila Lampkin lived and what she did for kids and families that are living with special needs,” Lindsey says.