Kansas lawmakers must fully fund schools’ special education


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Laura Robeson and her son Danny were Gov. Laura Kelly’s guests at her State of the State address.

Laura Robeson and her son Danny were Gov. Laura Kelly’s guests at her State of the State address.

In Kansas, we’re known for our great public schools. It’s what led me to pursue my own career in teaching. Unfortunately, we aren’t providing the same quality public education to all of our students, particularly our students with disabilities.

That must change.

I was honored to be a guest at Gov. Laura Kelly’s State of the State address this year, where she announced her plan to put Kansas on track to fully fund special education programs for the first time in over ten years. With me was my son, Danny, a fifth grader in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Danny has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and is visually impaired. Years ago, I quit my job as an elementary school teacher to care for my son full-time. I am fortunate that leaving my teaching career was an option for my family. For many in this country, it is not.

Underfunding special education comes in many forms. It can mean not having enough funds to pay for staff dedicated to serving children in special education programs. Without adequate funding for special education, there have been times when I have had to keep Danny home from school.

It can mean going without the resources that are essential not only for our children to learn, but for them to be safe in the classroom. As parents, we shouldn’t have to worry about our children’s safety when sending them to school or if they will be adequately cared for.

For years during former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration, Kansas public schools went without the funding they needed for our students to thrive. After four years of Gov. Kelly’s leadership, our public schools are fully funded and our students are thriving. It was great to hear Kelly address the years of underfunding of our special education programs in Kansas, and what she plans to do to right this wrong.

As she said herself, we must do more to ensure every Kansas student has the opportunity to thrive, which includes increasing funding for special education programs.

Nearly 90,000 Kansas students are in special education or gifted programs, which are funded through special education funds. That means 1 in 5 Kansas students relies on this funding in the classroom. But as The Star recently reported, lawmakers have not fulfilled the state’s legal obligation to fully fund special education since at least 2011.

As Kelly said during her address, underfunding our special education programs doesn’t affect just our special education students and their families. It impacts every single Kansas student.

When we lack the funds to invest in special education programs, that money is diverted from other programs. We shouldn’t be forced to choose which children in our state get to have better opportunities over others. Every Kansas child should be given the chance to thrive in the classroom no matter where they live, how they learn or what additional needs they may have.

I strongly encourage members of the Legislature to work with Gov. Kelly to increase funding for special education programs to ensure that all Kansas students have the resources available to thrive and the opportunity to learn. We owe it to kids like my son Danny, and to every single student in Kansas.

Laura Robeson is a health care and disability advocate, activist, and mother from Prairie Village.

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