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Report criticizes state for lapses re special ed funding

California's top-ranking educational official is notably piqued and unreceptive regarding successive reports that are quite critical of the state's Department of Education concerning its oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked toward special education initiatives.

In fact, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently stated that various groups strongly urging the DOE to better track $400 million that the state's school districts receive annually for mental health services are off the mark. Those groups also want state educational officials to submit an annual report on mental health outcomes for special education students.

Torlakson stated that his department is under no duty to "to calculate performance and/or outcome measures for … special education students." He additionally asserted that the DOE would need to be bolstered by extra funding and increased staff levels if the California Legislature enacted a law requiring it to undertake such efforts.

Those comments rankle a broad coalition of groups who believe quite the opposite. A senior member of an organization that co-authored one of the above-cited reports countered that the DOE "has completely abdicated any responsibility for monitoring or oversight" of the dedicated mental health funds.

A primary criticism levied by the recently released "Failing Grade" report is that mental health problems of students are not being timely identified and addressed in too many instances, resulting in inappropriate outcomes that include suspension and police involvement.

Numbers extrapolated from a recent study indicate that nearly 600,000 students might not be receiving appropriate school-based mental health assistance. Critics believe that closer DOE monitoring and an annual report on outcomes will reduce that number.

The above-cited commentator who criticizes the DOE for its alleged abdication of responsibility further questions its stated need for more funds to better oversee the program. The annually budgeted $400 million "is large" she says, and doesn't need to be augmented.

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