Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Times Editorial Weaponizes Special Ed Students for Their Own Purposes

The Times can't seem to ever get it right.   Here's what I said in the Comments section:

The Times is looking for a new editorial voice and shucks, I was going to apply but with this editorial, well, I'm going to blow that chance.  I have been a public education advocate in this city for over 20 years and written the most widely-read public education blog in the state for nine years (Seattle Schools Community Forum).  I know this district and I know it better than the entire Seattle Times editorial board. (I'd take all them on in a debate anytime, any place.)

The Times is wrong. Period.
Let's first examine the language they use. "Scheme" "political ploy" "political pawns".  As if the Seattle School district was doing something more for a political reason than to support their students in teaching and learning.

Worst of all, they blame the School Board.  For the Operations levy, 90% of the organizing of the levy IS in administration, not governance.  Remember, it has been the Times to warn against "micro-managing" and to accuse the Board of that in this case is appalling.

"True enough, the Legislature has not fully funded special education although it has plunged billions of dollars into public education to meet the demands of the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling"

Let's dissect that sentence.  First, "true enough" is good enough for the Times and the lack of full-funding for the most vulnerable students in Seattle Schools? Shameful.   And, the "demands" of the WA Supreme Court were because 1)the state had not fully funded schools...for decades and 2) the Legislature dragged its feet getting it done.

Pop quiz - how much does Seattle Schools spend beyond the federal/state funding for Special Education? Answer: about $72M.  Can you imagine what would happen if the district didn't support those students?  And the Legislature is going to "fix that" this session?  I will await the Times' answer when the state gives an underwhelming sum.

Next question - if you have 53,000 students and the state said that nine (9!) nurses were enough for those students in over 100 schools, as a district what would you do? Well, you would do what Seattle Schools does and hire about 60 more nurses because that allotment from the state is ridiculous.

"School leaders want to take a ballot victory to the Legislature and say: “See how our voters want to provide more than a basic education to Seattle children. The Legislature should allow them to support their schools in whatever way they feel comfortable doing.”"

No, I think Seattle Schools is showing what nearly every other district in the state knows - the state's plan for public education spending is not good.  It's out of whack and nearly every district in the state will be in the red within just a few years.  That would seem nuts but not to the Times.

"That’s just as the Legislature should be winding down its regular session, and the district and voters will have a better idea of what resources truly are needed."

So the district should spend another $1M in April for another election?  The Times has no problem with that?  The district has said if the state comes thru (and that's a BIG if), then they would take the lower rate (so less money).   Special Ed funding will not solve all the need.

Lastly, Seattle voters should understand one more thing about the Legislature's grand plan.  When they enacted the state property tax for education, they did it in a manner to balance out property-poor districts with property-rich districts.

That means all the money collected in Seattle does NOT stay in Seattle.

I have been both critic and cheerleader to Seattle Schools and, in this case, I'm the latter.  Please vote YES for both levies.

Editor's note: I'll have a follow-up post about what I am seeing and how I believe the City and the Times (among others) are colluding to flip the SPS table where 53,000 students sit.


Anonymous said...

I love this. The headline could have just as easily read, "SPS Weaponizes Special Ed Students for Their Own Purposes."

Also, hardly any of the money collected by the state from Seattle stays in Seattle. Seattle and King County, given the state's reliance on sales tax, property tax, and business and occupations tax and the economies of Seattle and Kind County, provide the lion's share of the state's General Fund.

Are you suggesting, Westbrook, that the state should fund local schools based on local property taxes and those locals keep ALL of the property taxes they raise?

Kubla Khan

Teresa A said...

Well said. Thank you

Consequences said...

McCleary increased the average homeowners property taxes by approximately $1K per year.

Property taxes across Seattle have increased more than 56 percent since 2013, with the median household now paying $5,708 a year. The result is displacement.


Anonymous said...

Please don't act like you are some sort of champion for special education because you are not! You consistently refuse to admit the teachers complacency in the matter and that is a disqualifying fact.

Federal state and local tax payers have spent 100s of millions of dollars funding special education in Seattle public schools yet have very little to show for it.

I feel very comfortable with this charge because of personal experience with teachers and because of the numerous adjudicated cases files with the office of OSPI that ruled so. Lack of funding was not a determining factor in any of the cases. In many cases Seattle public schools were forced to payout settlements greatly exceeding what it would have cost to simply comply with the law.

So what say you?


Ballard parent said...

I haven't checked recently but in the past there have been huge payouts to families of children that were denied FARE related to special education. To write that it's not the school board's responsibility is plain silly. Seattle public schools (SPS) has a well documented past of violations and public documents have shown a repeated pattern of code for code violations even after the board was made aware of the systematic failures. Several elections back we had two parents running who were primarily focused on special education and boy oh boy did the deep state go after them!

Lets face it the average person really dosn't really care about special ed and that's one of the reasons why we have the ADA.

If SPS can't even get general education right no matter how much money they seem to get then how could the same group of teachers and administrators have any hope of real ADA compliance. It's true paperwork compliance violations have decreased but there has as someone pointed out NO TEST SCORE IMPROVEMENTS on average for students on IEPs.

Now remember that group of 4 elected way back? What has improved compared to all of their political rhetoric? I say not much or really nothing meaningful.

Anonymous said...

Seems like there's a lot of adults making a lot of money off special eds gravy train.

It's like getting paid for making ice more frozen, who can really tell?

Mo Money

Unknown said...

It really is a black hole of funding.

"Supporting" students with special needs can mean different things. At the SPS HS where I teach, we mainstream special education students into co-taught classes (that's two full-time teachers for one class period) and often place an Instructional Aide in there as well. This is often in classes where there are only three or four students with ADA designations.

Contrast this with other places where my friends work where those special needs students are in resource rooms where there is one full time teacher and about eight to twelve students.

In either case, the student outcomes aren't different, so why are we paying two and a half teacher salaries and serving less kids at a time with no improvement in student results?

There's a big chunk of your $72 million right there.

Are nurses basic education, or are they a prerequisite for basic education? If we're going to state that every prerequisite is basic education, then SPS should be paying for pre-natal care, preschool, health insurance, nutritious food, league fees for rec soccer, piano lessons, etc., etc.

Not to keep talking about the past, but don't forget about that 10% raise we got last fall. Why should Olympia keep funding teacher raises?

Face it Seattle: we are going to have to make do with less in the name of equity. Those who contribute more get less to take care of those who need more and have less. That's equity.

Or perhaps SPS really isn't interested in equity?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Unknown. Spoken like a true general disability hater. The 2 approaches you list both require 2 teachers and an aid. But you like the educational arrangement where you never see a person with a disability, and God forbid you take one iota of responsiblity for test scores. That’s what parents everywhere are complaining about. The fact is that students with disabilities have every right to be in your classroom. Get over it. Just try teaching them instead.

(ps. It isn’t all about the test scores.)


Anonymous said...

@ (ps. It isn’t all about the test scores.)

So true, but for most of the sped population it's about performing at grade level or at ability. The public schools must provided meaningful measurable benefits, the SCOTUS has ruled so. You scored a 1 on the state assessment but we will give you a 2 so everyone WINS WINS WINS...see we know what we are doing so more money please.
It doesn't matter if you have one , two or ten people serving a student if they do not have clue how to accommodate the child in an academic setting. (I'm turning blue again)

Hey kidOOOOOs, here is your studies skill class, ADA compliance check mark Now can we have our $11,000 extra dollars per student.

I used kidos that means I care....barf barf!


Anonymous said...

"Street Cred" doesn't emerge when you boast about being an "education advocate" while trashing SPS each time it doesn't conform to your yuppie idealism, Ms. Westbrook.

Also, you can't credibly defend public education from charters when you make a name for yourself by, in the style of the Daily Mail, continually trashing the largest district in the state, who certainly deserves being trashed. The illogic is that you then you demand credibility when you defend public schools against competition.

Ms. Westbrook, I challenge your depiction of yourself as a public school advocate. In fact, your blog has greatly encouraged competition from charters.

Logic rests in consistency, syllogisms and patterns.

This blog has done more to encourage charters in this state than any Seattle Times article could claim.

Cause Effects

Lift-ER Up! said...

The district is working in conjunction with the Governor Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction to lift the levy lid.

Districts across the state provided double digit raises. These raises are/were non-sustainable. Districts need a legislative bail out. It is that simple.

Anonymous said...

Looking back over the last 10 years it's a crying shame counting up all the money Seattle public schools wasted on black hole initiatives, pet projects ect. Above all else is the malfeasance that hooked taxpayers into paying for JSCEE.

To add insult to injury is the nerve this district has complaining about the impacts of the McCleary decision. An effort that was funded mostly by Seattle money and driven by Seattle protesters.

You've made your bed so now lay down and go to sleep!


Unknown said...

Hi Next,

If I wasn't concerned about my career and student privacy laws, I'd be happy to give you old emails from parents and thank you notes from students with special needs who have been very welcomed, supported, and educated in my classroom.

This is a discussion about funding and how best to serve students with the limited funding we have.

Also, please note that I wrote "student results"--not test scores. Those results include test scores, grades, credits earned, happiness, relationships with teachers and peers and the larger school, etc, etc.

Please respond to what I write, not what others have written or your own past experiences.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Watcher, are you talking to me?

I do have a hard time with how much SPS says it spends on Sped and yet it is clear that not all IEPs are being fulfilled nor are classrooms inclusive and Sped programs get moved around like chess pieces.

But my point was what the Times was saying, not what I say.

Ballard Parent, I will say I am a little surprised at how electing Jill Geary turned out. I thought, since she is a lawyer and has experience in Special Education, both personally and professional, that she would be a Sped champion. Not saying she did nothing but I don't see the push from her that I think many voters thought would come.

Cause Effects, I don't have much to say especially to someone who can fire off charges and not sign their name.

I have always said I'm a cheerleader and critic to this district. It HAS changed since I first became a public education advocate. As for helping charters, go ask the Washington State Charter Commission and/or the Washington State Charter Schools Association if I've been a big help to them. I'm pretty sure the answer is no.

Anonymous said...

We all get that you were accusing the Times of exploiting students in special education. We're just pointing out the district is doing the same (and worse).

Kubla Khan

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kubla Khan, got it.

How the district serves Sped students is an on-going issue as it has been for decades. I had a person recently tell me there was no way that the district is spending $70M more then the state allocates. I'm not sure how to even check.

One recent issue that is troubling is a previous comment from a reader who says there has been an uptick in the number of students served by private firms (meaning, not in SPS schools). I know there are some very costly services for a few students with high needs but I didn't know there were that many of them.

But, there are no charters that would even entertain the idea of serving very high needs Sped students nor would they enrolled them and then try to find services for them. They'll just send them back to SPS.

Anonymous said...

SPED is much more than HIGH NEEDS students. The district steals funds allocated to NON HIGH NEEDS students in order to pay for HIGH NEEDS students. This a a fact that is very well documented and it's the elephant in the room. SPS receives between 6K-11k per sped student of which they spent less than 10% of that allocation on a certain population even though that population falls further behind academically each year.

While some students need more resources than others please explain why SPS is allowed to continue to only spending a small fraction of the allocation? If they only spend $750 of the spend money on a student why do they continue to receive $11K.

This practice needs to stop.

SPED parent

Anonymous said...

Melissa, a charter school would HAVE to enroll a high needs student if the family enrolled in the school and they would have to serve them. They CANNOT "send them back to SPS." The family would have to decide to go back to SPS. I know, I know, the charter school could counsel the family out, but they can't just send them back.

You are (once again) delivering a narrative that charter schools have the authority to decline an enrollment and then kick a student out based on a disability. THEY CANNOT DO THIS.

This has been clarified multiple times and you know better. I can only conclude at this point that you are choosing to lie about it. You are lying.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Francis, yes, they "have to" enroll them but that doesn't mean they won't exit them based on not having available services. It happens all the time throughout the country. So no, they don't send them back but, as in the case of SOAR Academy which is closing, those kids will always have a place to go in Tacoma Public Schools.

I have said - over and over with clarity - what I know about charter schools. Do not call names or misrepresent what I have said.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

It's apparently her hobby, similar to Nick Hanauer having public interest "hobbies."

The problem is the know-it-all attitude that permeates from this blog like the Monday morning quarterback.

Making a name for yourself on the back of the hard work of others, while constantly judging them, has really gotten old.

"Public education advocate" one minute and "citizen journalist" the next...the definition fits whatever is convenient for the moment.

Daily Mail on steriods.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I regret that some of you make this work personal. I know nothing about most of you so I can't make comments about your lives.

But that wouldn't be useful to anyone because we are here to discuss and find solutions.

That some of you either envy or resent my work, well, I can do nothing about that. I do sense some desperation in "maybe if we say enough bad stuff, she'll go away." Good luck with that.

I have never said I know it all. In fact, I go out of my way to cede time to others who are experts. But I am an expert on charter schools.

I have also never called myself a "journalist" - I'm a citizen reporter. I know my place in the media world and it's not a trained journalist.

Also, I may be single but that's not by choice. I'm a widow. I don't want to ever see one more word about my income, my marital status or where I live (which is in Seattle). It's none of your business and has nothing to do with this blog.

If you don't like this blog, you don't have to be here. But I'm not going to be a punching bag for anonymous trolls.

Cease and desist.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Lastly, get back on topic. The topic is Special Education.

Anonymous said...

SPED parent, yawn. (I assume you’re complaining about the fact that some students with disabilities cost more than others.) Yeah sure. But there’s safety net funding for the really high cost students. Are they bothering to file for that? Usually they don’t, and it’s a big “oh well, too hard, so expensive” excuse. The much bigger elephant in the room is what Unknown mentions. Tons of special ed resources thrown to students without disabilities. (ADA/504 students, homeless students, poor students - all of those aren’t eligible for special ed funding). Another big elephant is the lack of quantifiable evidence based practice.

If you want to know where the big and ballooning number of out of district contracts are, CHILD: Children’s Institute for Learning Difference, NW SOIL: School of Innovative Learning (blech, the name soil says it all), Overlake Specialty School are great places to look. (Sounds like a nice place for students in hospitals with cancer or something. No. Just special ed kids the district doesn’t want.) These grotesquely expensive contracts come complete with daily cab rides, several hours PER Day. And typically there’s no real reason for the district to use these type of placements. Why is a school in Mercer Island or Bellevue so special? There’s no reason SPS can’t serve these same students and at a fraction of the cost. There are also secret tuition payback schemes to parents at Academy for Precision Learning. The district doesn’t want an official contract because it would “Open the Floodgates.”

So no, students in Seattle don’t always have “a place to go” in the public system. And this represents millions in spending.

Another SPED

Anonymous said...

Melissa, you are NOT an expert on charter schools. And it's absurd for you to self-declare as such as you have numerous times.

You have never taught in a charter school. You have never run a charter school. You have never worked for a charter management organization. You have never worked for a charter support organization. You have never sat on a state charter school commission. You have never worked for a charter authorizer. You have never volunteered in a charter school.

You do not and have never had a child in a charter school. You do not have a grandchild in a charter school.

You have no actual connection to a charter school.

You ARE well-informed on opposition research pertaining to charter schools. You are well-informed on charter school laws and policies.

But you are no expert and it's an insult to actual charter school experts for you to declare yourself as such.


P.S. While I have avoided pointing out your personal details, who a person is --- income, marital status, and where you live --- informs her/his perspective. Everyone brings bias into the public space and that bias is inherent in this blog. To say those things have nothing to do with the blog is obtuse. Because you bring your personal perspective to this blog (i.e., it's not objective and detached), you bring your own background to this blog.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Francis, you are wrong. I am an expert especially in this region.

So charter school researchers are not experts?

So Diane Ravitch, former deputy secretary of education is not a charter expert?

The NPR education reporters are not experts?

You seem to equate having been in a situation as the only way to have expertise. That's fine but it's not true.

I have visited charter schools in a couple of states, on tours, no less.

Again, I warn readers to not get personal especially when, Francis, you do not have, as I do, the courage of your seemingly closely held convictions.

And last, Francis, this is not an open thread and you weaken the conversation when you change the subject. Sped student and parents deserve that courtesy.