January 21, 2000
A test case lawsuit against the State of California filed recently could pave the way for school districts to recover state-mandated special education costs that have gone unpaid for two decades. The Long Beach Unified School District is seeking to recover approximately $10 million for educating preschool and adult special education students here.
The state requires local school districts to provide special education to 3 through 5 year olds and 18 to 21 year olds, beyond the age range of federal requirements. The state has refused to reimburse the district for its special services to approximately 800 younger and older students with disabilities.
The saga began in the early 1980s when Santa Barbara filed a similar claim, but was stymied by a bureaucratic stalemate where key ruling bodies repeatedly cast tie votes, refusing to give either a thumbs up or thumbs down to the claim. Several years ago, the Long Beach Unified School District joined the effort to pursue recovery of these unfunded state mandates.
"Children and adults in the Long Beach Unified School District and throughout California are no less deserving of adequate state support of their education than their counterparts in other states," said Theodore Buckley, district legal adviser. "We applaud the state's willingness to have local school districts provide special education services beyond the federal requirements, but we question its 20-year delay in living up to its financial responsibilities to support those state mandates. As a result, all students served by our district have been shortchanged by the state for two decades. To solve this problem, the state needs to step up to the plate and pay for its mandated costs. The law requires it to do so, and we are asking the court to uphold that law.
"All education here--both regular education and special education--deserves adequate state support. We have done what the state requires while being systematically deprived of reimbursement for these costs.
"The 20-year quest to resolve this matter has required incredible patience and tenacity when dealing with the state bureaucracy to break the stalemate," he said.
"The heart of the issue is that, while mandating it, the state has refused to provide legally required support of the cost of educating special education students. It has denied reimbursement for two decades, despite the fact that we have been providing the state-required services to children."