Reps seek more special education funding for 2015: North Coast Congressman Huffman asks president to consider increase

Congressman Jared Huffman recently joined with other members of Congress to request additional federal funding for special education as part of the 2015 fiscal year budget proposal.

Huffman and 138 other members sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking the federal government to reach the full 40 percent funding currently promised under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"The federal government needs a plan to move us toward full funding for IDEA," the letter states. "This should begin with incremental increases, beginning in fiscal year 2015, in spending. Full federal funding for IDEA will help deliver an appropriate education for children with disabilities and provide necessary support to our teachers and school administrators who are working tirelessly, with limited resources, to better the lives of all students."

The act, according to the letter, provides individualized programs and services to students with a range of disabilities from hearing and language impairments to autism and learning disabilities.

Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Garry Eagles said the education community welcomes Huffman's advocacy.

"Special needs children should be served well through a partnership among federal, state and local resources," Eagles said. "The federal government has not provided its fair share of funding in decades."

Humboldt/Del Norte Special Education Local Plan Area Director Mindy Fattig said special education programs have never been fully funded as promised.

"Currently, only about 16 percent is being covered by the government," Fattig said. "Special education children need more services, and we are legally bound to provide those services whether or not the funding is available."

Ovieda Elliott, who oversees the Humboldt County Office of Education's Special Beginnings program -- which provides intervention for children up to 3 years old and individual education programs for children ages 4 to 5 -- said extra funding would help in individualizing programs to each child's specific needs.

"Demands at this point are overreaching available funding, both in early interventions and in school," Elliott said. "The funding for children ages 3 to 5 years old has been stagnant, and it's encroaching on the districts that are absorbing the excess costs."

Fattig said approximately 3,500 children in Humboldt and Del Norte counties are in need of some kind of special education, with that number steadily increasing. Elliott said they are also seeing an increase in the Special Beginnings program.

"We have grown over the last few years from 160 children in 2010 to 191 children this year," Elliott said. "The number for this year only represents how many students we have now, which is only halfway through the year. That number will remain fairly stable though, because I don't have enough staff to take on more children."

Huffman's communication director Paul Arden said Huffman has visited with many education officials over the years who have expressed concerns about the budgetary strains associated with taking on extra costs due to the federal shortfall.

"In pushing for increased and full IDEA funding, Rep. Huffman wants to help not only students with disabilities, but all students who inevitably get shortchanged when schools must take funds from other programs to cover IDEA services," Arden said.

With the budget proposal set to be released March 4, Fattig said the timing is right for the request.

"We are starting to get out of a recession, and there seems to be an economic upturn," she said. "That makes it the perfect time, and I think that's why we're seeing Congress do more advocating for this."

In addition to increased funds, Huffman and the other members also proposed a reauthorization of the act and identifying a plan to hit full funding over the next 10 years.

"We owe it to all students to provide a quality education that will help them graduate and enter successful careers," the letter states.

At a glance: Eligible special needs students in Humboldt and Del Norte counties:

2010: 3,385

2011: 3,447

2012: 3,476

2013: 3,570

Available funding:

2011-12: $4.06 million

2012-13: $4.01 million

Source: Humboldt/Del Norte SELPA