Gathering Places


Wednesday, June 20, 2001

We must scrutinize
Felix funding

In requesting the federal court to take over Hawaii's special education system, Shelby Floyd, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Felix litigation, stated that the Legislature is deliberately "sabotaging" the state administrations' efforts to achieve compliance."

Floyd's comment was apparently directed at the Legislature's scrutiny of requests for emergency funding and his characterization of the Legislature's oversight as "deliberate sabotage" is unfortunate. It overlooks basic facts.

The Felix consent decree is the outcome of a class action lawsuit alleging that qualified special education students were not receiving educational and mental health services required by two federal laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In 1994, the state entered into a consent decree in which it admitted its liability for not fully following these two laws.

In May 2000, even though the Legislature had appropriated $1 billion over six years to comply with the consent decree, the Federal District Court found the State to be in contempt because it had not complied. The court and the Legislature have a common interest in finding out why. The following explains our concerns:

>> State spending for special education is threatens funding for other valuable services. The State Auditor reports that expenditures for Felix-related services have increased from $181 million in 1995 to almost $302 million in 2000. This budget is about to escalate again. During the past legislative session, the Department of Education (DOE) and Department of Health (DOH) requested emergency funding of $107 million. The Legislature appropriated a lesser amount after the DOE and DOH admitted that not all the requested funding was necessary. Even with the reduced amount, the State will likely spend more than $400 million in the next year. Given the rate of growth of the budget for Felix-related services, this program may soon drain the State's financial resources from regular educational programs.

>> The Legislature has received no sound explanation for the growth in the population of special education students. The number of Felix students has increased over the past five years from 1,800 to 12,000 students. Up to 10,000 additional students may be in the program because the consent decree does not properly define which students are eligible.

>> Whether the services being provided to students are effective is questionable. The state auditor found that the DOE and DOH have not shown that students have benefited from the services and whether funds have been wisely spent. Thus, it is not certain that more funds will help the students.

>> The Legislature has received complaints of abuse and waste. Principals, teachers, parents and others have complained that special education funds are not well-spent. They are concerned that the system is benefiting private providers who receive contracts.

In scrutinizing the budget request, the Legislature is fulfilling its duty to ensure that taxpayer funds are used effectively and efficiently. The Legislature will not deny resources to special education students if those resources assist them. But it must first be assured that the DOE and DOH are spending money intelligently and that special education funding is not being wasted.

Rep. Scott K. Saiki is co-chairman of the
Joint Senate-House Task Force on Felix vs. Cayetano.

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