House Clears Funding for Students with Special Needs

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House Bill 86 would extend state funding for basic special education to kindergarten through third grade.

DOVER (DE) CONTRIBUTED BY DHD: The House passed long-awaited legislation Thursday that will mandate dedicated funding for critical educational interventions and services provided to students with special needs beginning when they enroll in kindergarten.

House Bill 86 would extend state funding for basic special education to kindergarten through third grade. The bill is a key part of a broad effort to promote earlier identification and assistance for these students, which will set them on a path for future success and potentially mitigate costs to the education system over the long term.

“We know without a doubt that early identification and intervention are critical to a child’s overall success in school and life. No effort to improve the quality of public education in our state can be considered complete without a commitment to serve these students from their earliest school years,” said Rep. Kim Williams, lead sponsor of HB 86 and chair of the House Education Committee. “My colleagues and I have worked to advance this legislation for nearly six years, and though it is long overdue I am thrilled that it is now coming to fruition.”

The Delaware education system classifies special education students into three categories: basic, intensive and complex. The state currently funds additional teacher units for intensive and complex special education from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The state only funds basic special education from fourth through 12th grade, leaving a gap in support for kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.

“For far too long, our state has failed to adequately fund special education in the earliest grades even though we know some of our most vulnerable children need additional support to help keep them from falling behind,” said Senator Nicole Poore, the Senate prime sponsor of HB 86. “Rep. Williams and I have fought for many years to bring K-3 basic special education funding in line with the higher grades and soon our hard work will provide desperately needed support to the children who need it the most. Our educators and all of the advocates who have fought alongside us deserve a tremendous amount of credit, and I look forward to quickly passing this bill in the Senate.”

The bill would lead to hiring approximately 130 new teachers statewide to educate young children with special needs at a cost to the state of $11.9 million when fully implemented by fiscal year 2024. Funding for HB 86 was approved by the budget-drafting Joint Finance Committee last month.

Rep. Williams noted that any upfront cost would likely be offset in the long run by reducing demands on state services and helping kids realize success later in their school careers and as adults.

Full state funding for basic K-3 special education services was included in an agreement reached last fall between the state and a group of advocates, including the Delaware NAACP, to settle a suit challenging Delaware’s funding of public education services for high-needs students.

House Bill 86 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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