Opinion

Kansas lawmakers made a promise to fully fund special education. So far, they haven’t kept it.

April 21, 2022 3:33 am
Kansas Statehouse (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas lawmakers are supposed to fully fund special education services, writes Kyle Carlin. So far, they haven’t done so. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Kyle Carlin is currently the director of special education for West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative in Hays.

Growing up, my grandpa taught me the importance of meeting your promises. I was a bit of a knucklehead as a kid. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and I am pretty sure I caused all of my grandma’s gray hairs.

One summer day when I was in grade school, I had promised that I would finish chores around the house before she got home from work. Before I could get started, I got distracted and ended up down the street at my friend Josh’s house. A little after 4 o’clock, his house phone rang and his mom said it was for me.

It did not take long for me to realize I had messed up. Grandma was not happy that I had not done what I said I would.

I hightailed it back, just in time for grandpa to be walking in the door and him getting to hear what I had failed to do. I got an earful about, “all you have is your word,” and “when you make a promise, you keep it.” I also gained a lot more chores that were not nearly as pleasant as picking up around the house.

It was not fun, but it helped me learn that promises matter.

Right now, the Kansas Legislature is not meeting its promise to all students. Despite claims that education is fully funded, special education is not currently funded adequately. By law, Kansas is supposed to fund 92% of special education costs that are not covered by federal funds. It is currently funded at 76%.

This means that school districts are having to pay more than $100 million each year above what they should be paying. By the 2023-24 school year, the covered amount will drop to 64% (more than $175 million short).

Special education needs must be met, so local school districts cover the excess cost to make sure students have what they need. However, this means each district is not able to fund general education programs as well as they would like.

– Kyle Carlin

Special education needs must be met, so local school districts cover the excess cost to make sure students have what they need. However, this means each district is not able to fund general education programs as well as they would like.

For my communities, this means tough decisions that affect class sizes, staff salaries and the resources available for all students. Budgets for special education and general education get squeezed and we have to figure out what we will go without.

Special education needs are always met, but we know that a teacher with 16 students on their caseload is able to be more effective than one with 24 students on their caseload. We also know that teachers do better when they can get quality training and when they have adequately paid paraeducators assisting them. These are much harder to provide when pennies are pinched.

In other parts of the state, these tough decisions will include discussions about school districts having to shut down. This is a huge challenge for rural Kansas. Once schools close, Main Street follows shortly after.

Luckily, there is a great opportunity to correct this.

Kansas currently has one of the largest budget surpluses in its history. The time is now for Kansas to fund special education appropriately and finally meet its promise of 92%.

The only people with the power to change this are members of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate. If you are a parent or a community member who is concerned about the opportunities given to all students, you must let these legislators know what your school and your community need.

Please contact your representative and senator and share what fully funding special education would mean for you and your school. Ask them to include appropriate special education funding in the Kansas budget when they return to Topeka on April 25. You can find your legislators here.

Remind them of the power of a promise in Kansas.

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Kyle Carlin
Kyle Carlin

Kyle Carlin is the director of special education for West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative in Hays. He is in his 11th year of working in special education. He is also a U.S. Army veteran.

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