Education officials are increasingly sending disabled children out of state » Publications » Washington Policy Center

Washington’s Assistant Superintendent of Special Education, Glenna Gallo, is currently being considered by Congress to lead the US Department of Education’s special education program.

Under Gallo, the number of children sent out of state to therapeutic residential settings has increased sharply over the past five years. In recent months journalists Austin Jenkins and Wilson Criscione have described the anger and frustration of the parents burdened by the state’s policy of sending their children away.

Sending children away from their families is a stunning failure of policy.

Glenna Gallo has been in charge of special education for the state since 2017. OSPI has a list of approved out-of-state residential placements for severely disabled children. Some of these placements cost districts more than $300,000 per student per year. The majority are in Utah, but some are in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and Montana.

In 2020-21, officials sent 80 children out of state. Under Glenna Gallo, these numbers have increased sharply. The total amount approved for out-of-state placements in 2020-21 was $12.8 million, up from $2.77 million during the 2016-17 school year.

Operators of residential facilities for severely disabled children have good reasons for avoiding Washington state. One is the law giving 13-year-olds autonomy over their health care, allowing 13-year-olds to sign themselves out of these placements. This creates a strong disincentive to open therapeutic residential treatment centers in the state.

Another obstacle to new in-state facilities is the state’s hostility to “non-public” operators. Gallo and Superintendent Reykdal have expressed concerns that out-of-state placements are provided by “non-public” organizations. They illogically blame taxpayers for not providing enough funding for special education. In their minds $300,000 per special needs student is not enough.

Stacy Dym, executive director of the Arc of Washington, a nonprofit organization advocating for people with intellectual and development disabilities, says the trend of sending more students out of state is unacceptable:

“This signals loud and clear that we need to spend more time thinking about solutions that are here, so that families aren’t in crisis, kids aren’t in crisis, and we’re not separating them during this time.”

Dym, who was formerly Inslee’s education ombudsperson, also says:

“We have the ability and capacity in our state to take care of our own kids. And we really have made a solid commitment not to. Because it’s not like the Legislature and the agencies are not aware of the situation.”

The solution to help these families is to give them control over the dollars. Families with severely disabled children have every incentive to make the best placement for their child. But as long as special needs families are captive to the monopoly system, officials are likely to continue doing what is convenient for them, including separating children from their families.

Only when special needs families can control, say, $25,000 per child of public education funding, officials will take steps to meet their needs. Until then, officials banish this vulnerable population of children from their families, adding to their suffering.

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