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Testimony of Special Education Equity for Kids in Connecticut (SEEK) To Committee on Appropriations

Andrew Feinstein March 23, 2023

Chairwoman Osten, Chairwoman Walker, Ranking Members Berthel and Nuccio, and members of the Appropriations Committee

My name is Andrew Feinstein and I am the Legislative Chair of Special Education Equity for Kids of Connecticut (SEEK). SEEK is an organization of parents, professionals, advocates and attorneys working to support the needs of students with disabilities in the state. I appear today to testify on S.B. 1219, an act concerning fully funding excess costs for special education.

Special education in Connecticut is in acute crisis. We have a serious shortage of special education teachers. The ones we have are overworked, plagued by paperwork responsibilities made much worse by the troubled introduction of CT-SEDS, and often disrespected in the system. We have a catastrophic shortage of paraeducators, who are grossly underpaid. The level, frequency, intensity of maladaptive behavior has increased, making many special educators afraid. Schools are facing shortages of speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, behaviorists and school psychologists. School psychologists are frequently unable to provide counseling and support to troubled students because they are fully occupied conducting required initial and triennial evaluations of students with disabilities.

I will not pretend that money is the panacea for these ills. I will say that money is what can make a significant difference and is the one, best tool this Legislature has to address the crisis in special education. The Education Committee has changed the reference on HB 6881 and HB 6884 to the Appropriations Committee. HB 6881 would substantially increase the compensation and professionalism of paraeducators. HB 6884 would substantially increase the compensation and retirement of teachers. The enactment and full funding of both of these bills would do a great deal to alleviate the serious crisis in special education.

Remarkably, the only direct appropriation in Connecticut for special education is the excess cost grant. It is like a catastrophic insurance policy to cushion the financial blow to districts of the out-of-district placement of a severely impaired student. The excess cost grant does nothing whatever to address the crisis in special education. The $156 million appropriated for the current year does not go to the neediest districts, notwithstanding the tiered reimbursement formula adopted in last year’s budget implementer bill.

In Connecticut, the Education Cost Sharing grant is the state’s support for education. Based on a complicated formula, each district gets a sum of money which it can use in any way it deems appropriate. Surely, some is used for special education, but not enough in many districts. The passage and funding of HB 5003 will help, but not enough to alleviate the crisis in special education. We need a direct appropriation to support special education, with the guarantee that the new money is used to augment previous spending levels, not to free up funds previously devoted to special education for other priorities.

That said, SEEK does not oppose full funding of the excess cost grant. Our members advocate for some of the students in the most expensive placements. Still, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that fully funding the excess cost grant will do anything to alleviate the crisis in special education. Let’s not pretend that it will improve the quality of education services in school districts or that it will reduce the shortage of paraeducators or special education teachers.

In 2021 and again in 2022 the Legislature created a task force to study special education services and funding. The task force is reauthorized in S.B. 1200, reported out of the Education Committee last Friday. The task force is now being formed. It is my hope that the task force can come to you in a year with serious recommendations on direct funding of special education.

We thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions and SEEK wants to continue to work with this Committee.