Rosenlee says more SPED teachers and staff needed statewide

In testimony before the Board of Education’s Student Achievement Committee Oct. 3, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee praised Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and the BOE for prioritizing improvements in special education services and said major improvements are needed in SPED.

“Closing the achievement gap will require the department to recruit and retain additional special education teachers to ensure that all special needs children are given a chance to succeed,” Rosenlee said in written testimony to the BOE.

He noted that in the 2010-2011 school year, the state moved from a weighted student formula to a proportional formula in allocating SPED positions, which, coupled with statewide budget cuts, led to a dramatic decrease in the number of SPED teacher and educational assistant positions statewide: a loss of 321 or 6 percent of those positions from the year before.

Rosenlee said the state has struggled to keep up with the increasing needs and of SPED programming. As the number of SPED students has risen, the number of specialized and non-specialized staff working with them has fallen.

Since the 2009-2010 school year, before major budget cuts reduced SPED staffing, the number of SPED students in Hawaii public schools has risen by four percent, from 19,158 to 19,935 in the 2015-2016 school year, the most recent year for which detailed statistics are available, Rosenlee said. But the number of teachers and EAs assigned to special education in that same time has fallen by four percent, from 5,377 to 5,161.

Thus, Rosenlee said many more SPED teachers and EAs are needed to meet the needs of students.

DOE officials also reported 101 SPED teacher vacancies and 161 SPED teachers hired who haven’t completed a state approved teacher education program for the 2015-2016 school year. The DOE also noted 329 EA vacancies for the 2016-2017 school year.

“We must invest in the future of our special needs students. We invite the BOE and DOE to join us, next year, in seeking additional funding to ensure a quality learning experience for our most vulnerable children,” Rosenlee said.