April 09, 2012

Washington State Education Ombuds Faces Budget Cuts

An editorial in the Washington Olympian reveals that the independent Ombuds office that assists parents of students reach informal resolutions of educational issues may be downsized dramatically. S. Wayne Duncan, a child and adolescent clinical psychologist in Seattle, points out that the Office of the Education Ombudsman helps the state avoid expensive litigation: 

The OEO’s current annual budget of $474,000 means that their services are available to each family for about 50 cents per student, or about the cost of two pencils at an office supply store. A single lawsuit can easily escalate to cost $100,000 when costs for the family and the school district are combined. It only takes a few lawsuits to equal the entire annual OEO budget. Lawsuits also require extensive district staff time and energy. All of these resources can be better spent on improving learning for students and increasing needed classroom resources.

The current tight economy and cut-to-the-bone school budgets make legal costs especially difficult to manage at both the family and district levels. Laws related to schools and special education are complex, technical and carried out in varied ways in different school settings. Parents need a place to turn to when problems are multifaceted or when they and their children are not being heard at the local school level and discussions are at an impasse. The proposed budget cuts will harm schools and students – and taxpayers – throughout the state when the availability of this unique Washington resource is so severely compromised. 
 Duncan says that he has personally experienced the effectiveness of OEO in resolving complex situations at the elementary, middle and high school levels. (The Olympian.)

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