Parents and educators from across California joined together in Sacramento to advocate for special education improvements in our public schools. Legislative Information Sharing Day is an annual event sponsored by the SELPA Administrators of California that brings educational leaders, Community Advisory Committee members, parents, and students to the State Capitol to share their stories and support for proposed legislation that will improve special education. Two bills are facing legislation focusing on family empowerment centers and equalization of special education funding in the state.
AB 3136, “Special Education Funding,” would improve the state’s funding process that supports students with disabilities by establishing state support for special education preschool services. This would provide funding to equalize special education funding inequities and provide support for students requiring higher cost services as a result of their disability.
AB 2704, “Special Education Programs: Family Empowerment Centers on Disability,” seeks to establish new Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) in California while increasing their existing funding. The proposed legislation would also require data collection and reporting that would improve coordination and collaboration between the California Department of Education and FECs.
The morning began with presentations from statewide leaders and inspirational voices including keynote speaker, Elizabeth Estes, founder of Breaking Barriers, a collaborative organization of leaders in child-serving systems. Estes spoke about her experience in college as a victim in a violent hostage situation and how it, not only affected her own mental health but how it inspired her to ensure mental health services are provided for children and families from a young age.
Feda Almaliti, a parent within the Mission Valley SELPA in the Bay Area, was this year’s parent speaker. Her presentation – at times funny, serious, and heartfelt – was an authentic look at her uphill journey in navigating the world of special education. It was an inspiring story of her refusal to accept the constant response of, “We don’t do that,” by both the healthcare industry and her own school district. Almaliti documented her life-long experiences from dealing with the initial shock of her son’s diagnosis of autism to working with Governor Jerry Brown to pass an influential autism bill in the state. Teri Gibbons, a parent of two children attending Classical Academy and Coastal Academy, reflects on Almaliti’s presentations saying, “…liked the fact that she said that even after our kids are finished with school, we need to continue going on” with services and care.
If you are interested in participating in next year’s Legislative Information Sharing Day, the best way to get more information is to sign up to be a member of your local SELPA’s Community Advisory Committee (CAC). Parents involved in their CAC, not only help shape and approve SELPA policies, they are a SELPA’s go-to source for parents and community members who can be called upon to share stories and advocate on behalf of their child and special education. Please also reach out to your local legislator and encourage them to support legislation that would improve special education in California. You can find out who your representatives are by going to http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/ and entering your address.