Wednesday Conference Committee Wrap-Up
Mental Health and Special Education Discussed. The House had the gavel today and covered two issue areas that are featured in the House version of the omnibus education funding and policy bill. It was the first meeting of the conference committee where the committee had to return for an early evening session to complete testimony that time prevented from being heard during the morning session. The House bill makes considerable investments in a variety of mental health initiatives and, as has been pointed out over the past few weeks, a significant financial commitment to reducing the special education cross-subsidy. A document handed out compared district referendum amounts to the amount of their cross-subsidy and while there isn’t a direct correlation between those amounts (especially for districts that have been unable to pass an operating referendum), there’s no question that a number of districts have gone to the voters to help mitigate their budget pressures that result from experiencing special education costs that dramatically exceed the amount of special education formula money they receive from the state.
There was also discussion of the multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) provisions in the House bill and how that relates to both special education and student mental health. Multi-tiered systems of support have both academic and behavioral elements with the expressed goal of providing interventions that will keep students in the regular education classroom and in the event they do qualify for special education, they are appropriately identified. Given the Senate’s strong interest in literacy (especially the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, or LETRS professional development program), they are heavily invested in the academic success portion of the MTSS framework. The House bill puts forward just under $5 million for LETRS found in two sections of their bill and while that is far lower than the Senate’s $30 million, this is an area where there may be room for some level of a deal.
The gavel goes back to the Senate tomorrow and the discussion will center around the differences in the budget proposals and the Senate’s literacy initiative.