Inslee draws bipartisan criticism after nixing special education funds audit

Democratic Rep. Gerry Pollet said, “It makes no logical sense. The governor vetoed a study that is vital for advancing equity in special education."

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Democratic Governor of Washington Jay Inslee vetoed an audit of special education funds just as the state will begin increasing funding for those programs by $400 million over the next two years. By doing so, Inslee has antagonized lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who wanted to make sure special needs students are receiving the services they are entitled to.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1436 which directed the state auditor and the legislative auditor to jointly carry out a performance audit of Washington’s special education system and compare the funding model to those in other states to assess the adequacy of funding and the effectiveness of districts’ use of that money.

Legislators included $1.5 million in the state budget for the Office of the State Auditor and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to cover the costs of the analysis.

Inslee vetoed the audit section of the bill on May 11 and then followed up by nixing funding for the state auditor’s share in the operating budget he had previously signed, but left money for the legislative auditor to perform its portion.

The bill’s primary sponsor Democratic Rep. Gerry Pollet told the Washington State Standard on Thursday “I’m really quite upset about it. The focus of this bill was the violation of civil rights of students with disabilities being denied special education services. It sets back the study of the inequities of who gets special education services. It makes no sense.”

House Republican Leader Drew Stokesbary told the outlet he was “disappointed and frustrated but also surprised,” adding that “We received no notice from the governor.”

In a statement, Senate Republican Leader John Braun said Inslee has “…talked a lot about trusting data these last few years. So how is it that he eliminated a performance audit that would have gathered data about the current state of special education funding?” 

“The findings would have helped the state spend millions in new funding where it’s needed most,” he added. “Special education services have been chronically underfunded and the best way to ensure the needs of these children are met is to find out how we are failing them now.”

Inslee wrote in his veto message regarding a subsection of the legislation that grants the state auditor access to student records it would not otherwise be legally entitled to receive, “This provision conflicts with policies that favor the protection of student records and individual student privacy, without a corresponding need for that confidential, personal information.”

Pollet said in response to the explanation, “It makes no logical sense.” He continued, “The governor vetoed a study that is vital for advancing equity in special education. If the state auditor cannot review student records then the state auditor cannot hold school districts and OSPI accountable for not serving the most vulnerable population.”

Special education programs were the hardest hit in response to the pandemic. Students with disabilities who received therapy and programs through the public school system fell behind in their progress and were left with no resources when the schools closed and classes went online. Many para educators were among the first to be laid off or furloughed when budget cuts were made. In response, many Washington parents of special needs students relocated to other states in order to receive the services.

Inslee's vetoes have received more attention than many of this session's legislative achievements. Last week, Inslee vetoed parts of a bill that would have required tribes and communities to receive advance notice if a sexually violent predator is relocated into their neighborhoods.  

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