COMMENTARY: Delaware needs K-3 basic special education funding

Delaware children deserve the opportunity to succeed — from the moment they settle into their first desk in school, pencils in hand, to the day they toss their graduation caps to the sky.

Access to a quality education sets a child up to pursue their dreams and those opportunities. Their future can be limitless. That quality education is even more critical to students with special needs, especially as the special education student population in Delaware is growing faster than the overall student population.

Let’s make no mistake — the First State does believe in investing in our children; however there is a critical gap in basic special education funding.

Kim Williams

There is the Delaware STARS program, which strengthens quality early learning experiences before a child reaches kindergarten. School districts are allocated extra funding for fourth- through 12th-grade special education students for basic support services and programing. But that extra funding is not available for K-3 students — some of the most critical years in a child’s young life.

House Substitute 1 for House Bill 12 would bridge that critical gap. This legislation extends basic special education funding to students in kindergarten through third grade so that our children identified with special needs earlier will have the supports and resources they need to succeed.

The need for additional funding is clear when we look at state data. Statistics show that the number of children enrolled in Delaware schools with special needs has grown to about 21,550 students in the last five years.

As such, we write in great support of this legislative initiative. The earlier a child receives educational support, the greater likelihood there is that they can close learning gaps.

Early intervention helps support the educational, behavioral and emotional well-being of students with special needs so that they can be successful in the classroom, and in life. For children on the autism spectrum in particular, advocates say with certainty that early intervention is key to improving outcomes over time. Investing in early childhood education also comes with the added fiscal benefit of reducing the demands on state services as children close education gaps.

Nicole Poore

The kindergarten to third-grade school years are formative for children, and it’s important for them to hit various milestones. For example, by the time a child reaches third grade, they should be transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn. We want all children to be able to have the chance to reach those educational markers.

Studies have shown that children are less likely to transition out of special education after age 9, so having educational supports in place for kindergarten through third grade is particularly important. After third grade, less than 30 percent of students transition out.

It is more important now than ever to have smaller class sizes and more support to manage the increasing demands of the curriculum, state standards, and the rising number of students with special needs in our schools.

Please contact your state senator and representative and ask that they support HS 1 for HB 12. Let’s make this a priority for our kids. Their futures and their education, depend on us.

Rep. Kimberly Williams represents the 19th Representative District which covers Newport. Sen. Majority Whip Nicole Poore represents the 12th Senate District, which covers Wilmington Manor, Delaware City and New Castle. Lacey Brown is a first-grade teacher at Love Creek Elementary in the Cape Henlopen School District. Teresa Avery is the executive director of Autism Delaware.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.