Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman started a new tradition on February 11, 2020, by giving the first-ever State of Special Education Address before the State Senate Education Committee.

Saying the State of Special Education “deserves our immediate and intense focus,” Superintendent Hoffman outlined where the 150,000 Arizona children in Special Education programs need the most assistance.

The Current State of Special Education

After praising the bipartisan efforts of the Senate led by Education Chairperson Sylvia Allen in referring legislation to raise funding for Special Education as a first step to improving the funding shortfall situation, the Superintendent said that “years of cuts to special education that have resulted in an under-resourced system that is stretched thin.”

She pointed out that are currently shortages in:

  • Special Education teachers.
  • Speech-Language Pathologists.
  • Occupational Therapists.
  • Physical Therapists.
  • School Psychologists

The Superintendent noted that the above positions have not received the salary increase benefits of the 20×2020 and this oversight coupled with greater degrees of “burnout” has led to a larger shortage in this teaching area.

Potential Solutions to Improve the State of Special Education.

In her address, Hoffman pointed out several initiatives that were already in place that are helping to improve the State of Special Education. They are:

  • A Department of Education program called Teach Camp to “improve the retention of new special education teachers.”
  • The creation, thanks to the leadership of Education Vice-Chair Senator Paul Boyer, of a Dyslexia Specialist at the Department of Education and supplemental legislation to fund that position and two other full-time K-3 trainers.
  • The new Dyslexia specialist, Michelle Hodges, is also charged with helping to train the Early Childhood team to “identify language processing challenges.”
  • The emergence of “inclusive school communities” in school districts across the state where special education and general education instructors jointly teach classes that have special education and no special education students.

Money and more money is still needed? 

Additional funding, according to Hoffman is still needed. That includes the aforementioned increase in special education funding that has passed the Senate Education Committee that still needs to pass the whole legislature in the budget process and be signed by Governor Ducey.

The Superintendent also called for the passage of the “bipartisan” HB2806 which would “restore” state funding ($20 million that was cut from the federal government) for early education programs like First Things First and Head Start that would help families in “rural and urban areas” to “access early childhood services.”

In closing her address, Superintendent Hoffman stated:

“In today’s public education system, every child should feel that they are valued. And I know what our students are capable of when we give them the tools to succeed.”

“But it will take investment — in special education educator pay; in high-quality pre-school; in the services that students need, to make this a reality.”

“We can do this fairly. And we can do this now.”

“So, I ask you, our state leaders, to invest comprehensively in our public education system, in our students receiving special education services, and in the coming generations of Arizonans that will define the future of our great state.”

Unlike the back and forth from the House members following Hoffman’s State of Education Address on February 3, 2020, the reaction from all the Senate Education Committee members was cordial and friendly.

All of the members commended Hoffman for discussing the needs of the Special Education Community and there appeared to be a sense of a bipartisan commitment to improving the situation in this area.

Hopefully, this atmosphere will carry over to the remainder of the budgeting and legislative process and special education will move positively forward and the children will be the better for it.