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Special education advocates: State budget ‘missed opportunity’

MADISON (WKOW): Those who worked on behalf of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities this legislative session told 27 News they were “disappointed” with the amount of money the state will provide for special education in the two-year budget plan.

“I think a lot of people thought this was the year to get a big increase in special education,” said Lisa Pugh, the executive director of The Arc Wisconsin. “We had bipartisan legislators sitting around the table, we had a governor who understood the needs in education, and we still couldn’t get there.”

Gov. Tony Evers originally proposed a two-thirds increase in special education, but it was pared down in the proposed budget. The version Evers signed today got back about $95 million.

In his veto message, he wrote that he proposed a larger investment because “we cannot continue asking folks to tax themselves at the local level to pay for priorities the state should fund.”

The increase for special education funding is monumental. This is the first time it has increased in 10 years. But Pugh said that while it is a step, costs of education have also increased, meaning the need is greater than $95 million over two years.

“I think that we’re being told we’re supposed to be satisfied with any increase at all but when you read the stories of families and you talk to families across Wisconsin about what’s happening for their students with disabilities, this is a drop in the bucket,” she said.

State funding helps pay for special curriculum and therapies. It also puts investments in transition programs and mental health. Pugh said these things should be a priority.

“There really is no greater investment than our children,” she said. “I think there is a lot of evidence [that shows] when you invest in children with disabilities and quality in the classroom, there are some great long term return on investment.”

She said they are going to go back to the legislature to lobby for more funding. One way they might do that is to try to get it through separate bills outside the budget process.

It’s been a decade of no funding for special education, and I think a lot of people felt that this was the year to get that significant investment and to get us back to the right funding levels that other states have been doing for their students with disabilities,” Pugh said.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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