The Future of Inclusive Education in California
Does the fate of a state bill tell us anything about what is next for inclusive education in the Golden State and the US?
My name is Tim Villegas, and you are reading or listening to my newsletter, The Weeklyish, where every couple of weeks, I breakdown what happening in the world of inclusive education or what’s been on my mind regarding inclusion. I like to say The Weeklyish is for inclusionists because if you are a subscriber, then it probably means you know that our educational system is broken, but you want to build something better.
For this edition of The Weeklyish, we are going back to prepandemic times. Remember them?
[Phone Clip: I think we're good. All right. Hey, thanks for calling me. I appreciate your time. Of course. Um, so I don't know if you know anything about me...]
This is me and Kristin Wright, former Director of Special Education for the California Department of Education speaking on the phone on March 2, 2020. Two weeks before the world shut down.
I wanted to talk with Kristin because I heard about a state bill in California that would expand inclusive practices across the state, and to my knowledge, it was the only bill of its kind in the country. And it would build on an ongoing project called Supporting Inclusive Practices.
The Supporting Inclusive Practices Project is already a project and has been doing work for over the last four years, working with districts under our statewide technical assistance. One of the things that we are required to do under IDEA as a state, is to let districts know how they're doing around specific indicators, California's been fairly low around access for students in the general education environment and their peers for students with disabilities and now, and has been inching up about a percent a year, which is about 7,000 students per percent that it increases, but we're pretty low compared to other states.
She’s right; according to the data submitted by the state to the federal government, California’s LRE A data has moved up from 49.2% in 2015 to 53.2% in 2019 (the latest available data). The state target is set at 70% by 2025.
So why should you care about a state bill and what California is doing to move inclusive practices forward?
In California, a total of 6.86 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools. That is the highest number of K-12 students in the U.S.
And even though the state has the highest private school attendance (accounting for 643,010 or 9.4% of students), 6.22 million students are enrolled in public schools.
If there are significant gains with inclusive practices in CA, that may affect the entire county.
So, what ended up happening with the bill?
Well, on September 29, 2022. Governor Newsom sent a message to the California State Legislature.
Governor Newson (probably):
To the Members of the California State Senate: I am returning Senate Bill 1113 without my signature.
I won’t waste your time reading the rest of the veto letter. But in order to explain this and the future of inclusive education in California, I want you to meet Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh.
Senator Ochoa Bogh: Well, very simply, SB 1113 would have promoted the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms by addressing and implementing inclusionary practices through one, a mandated review for the consideration of inclusionary practices in textbooks, number two, a study to determine proper staffing numbers to achieve those best practices, and number three, mandating that training and inclusive practices for new school administrators be in place. And I just want to note that as the bill went through the process of the committees, we did a lot of narrowing the scope of the bill. It was a very comprehensive bill because there was a lot to be done, and in my thought and in order to move forward and make sure that the bill continued with the collaborative effort that we had, was to follow the counsel that we're given and do what we needed to do in order for that bill to move forward.
Tim Villegas: So, what is the next step for the bill?
Senator Ochoa Bogh: We at least have the stakeholders at the table. People are discussing it, and we are hopefully a little closer than we've ever been before to making sure that we're on the right path in a standard way for inclusionary education here in California.
Tim Villegas: I was very disappointed to see the veto. It was pre-COVID, when I first learned about this bill, and I actually had talked to Kristen Wright, who I believe was the director of Special Education. So, this has been a very long journey, even getting to this point.
Senator Ochoa Bogh: Yeah. So, one of the concerns that I have with the California State Legislature is that we go through policy incredibly quickly. And in that process, we don't give each piece of legislation enough time for all stakeholders, to actually dig into the depth that we should on policy and the implications that it may or may not have when it's implemented or vetoed. One of the reasons why it was so disheartening for me to see the veto message on the bill was that we truly followed counsel that was given to us by the committee consultants in order to make sure that the bill moved forward. So, to see what we had at the beginning. To see how we had to strip it down through the committee process. As we were moving forward, I thought we were working with the best interest. I mean, I, I mourned everything that we stripped from the bill with every, with every committee. I, I was mourning it, but I thought, Okay, Rosilicie, just one more step forward, just move it one, one more step forward. And that was the goal ultimately. So, right now I did, I, I mourned it. I, I cried cuz I was a little disappointed on them because of all the work that everyone, everyone put forward on this effort. And I'm so grateful to everyone who came on board and had the conversation, spent the time to explain. All of them who were willing to do the work, and I figured, okay, those relationships have now, you know, deepened and hopefully moving forward, we'll address the concerns that the governor had. The idea that he had with the SIP funding that, you know, he's allocated about $32 million. But here's the thing. Even though there has been $32 million invested in special education, we still at the very top do not have a standards-based research-based book that can be used by the state of California. So, we still have to move towards that overall effort.
Tim Villegas: so why is promoting inclusive practices important to you personally?
Senator Ochoa Bogh: Yes, Yes. So I was actually in the classroom for just a short period of time and I, I taught English language learners and I was an English language learner myself. And it's interesting because when you're an English language learner sometimes these children feel out of place, feel like they don't belong. And I remember that there were, you know, activities, there were things that we could not do. We were pulled out of the classroom to do, you know, special work one on one, but that is always, you know, children don't wanna feel different. They wanna, they wanna feel part of the group. And, here in our classroom, in our school, in our local elementary school where my children attended, our neighbor actually is a special needs child who was blessed enough to be in a school, in an elementary school that my children attended, where the principal was very cognizant in making sure that every child that was, you know, seen or identified as a special needs child felt included in the classroom, included in the school environment. And children like my, my children were able to participate in activities where they were working one on one with these children, and it built such a level of empathy and compassion and inclusivity, acceptance, respect, and dignity for both my children and the children that were participating in that program. So, I think it helps us as a culture, as a society to be more humane, more considerate. And, I am so grateful, so grateful that we had a principal who had that vision, who had that training and who had that heart to make sure that his school was one that was very inclusive in, in its programs and its activities. And I can tell you that my children were better for it because of. So, I would love to see that as a whole, you know, in the state of California that every child gets to have that at a very young age because, you know, we can start at different ages, but if we just make this a part of the natural educational environment, starting when they're very, very young, kindergarten, first grade, second and third, and so forth in elementary school, then it's not of like, it's not as something that is foreign, but something that is very innate in education, in their culture, in their, in their sphere of influence. I just wanna make sure that as we speak about inclusionary practices throughout the state in California as well as the nation, I wanna make sure that we have all stakeholders at the table because there are valid concerns on every angle and in order to really pacify those fears, and I think at the root of all that fear is the fear of failure by teachers that they're feeling, or by the parents and students or the administrators. Everybody is afraid to fail, and that's one of the reasons why I didn't want any part of this bill to be punitive in it, in its approach and be very open, as you know, here it is, and let me, let's see how we can help you. Because if people are afraid to fail, they're less likely to take a risk and be innovative and try something new. This is the beauty of where we are, right, Tim? Is that we're the adults. When we see something not working, especially within with our children or within education, guess what? We have the ability to, to change that. And we have to have the right people. And, and we've been blessed because everyone we have really worked with this past year or two years, year and a half, have been beautiful, wonderful people that have the right heart. And once we were able to cut through the fear and cut through the challenges and understand and deliver and convey what the intent was and where we were coming from, let me tell you, the doors were wide open for conversations and dialogue and productive work.
Tim Villegas: Senator, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Senator Ochoa Bogh: Thank you Tim. A pleasure as well, and thank you so much for the opportunity.
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The Weeklyish is written, edited, and sound designed by Tim Villegas and is a production of MCIE.
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