In recent decades, the federal government has passed laws protecting people with disabilities. For young people, the two most important are the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (specifically, section 504 of this civil rights law). Together, these two laws establish the civil and human rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education. Collectively, this is known as Special Education.
The states were left with broad latitude on how to finance this cost. Washington elected to implement a complicated scheme by which each school district is paid a percentage of the Basic Education Allocation (BEA - the amount the state gives each school district for each student).
That basic education allocation is based on the local cost of living, so Aberdeen's BEA is $8386. The state sends this money to Aberdeen for each student's education. For comparison, the BEA for North Kitsap is $9503.61. (North Kitsap and Aberdeen are about the same size and less than 100 miles apart).
This sucks for low-income school districts. But it gets worse.
As I mentioned above, the legislature has set the Special Education per-student allocation at 99.5% of the BEA so Aberdeen gets $8334.07 per special needs student while North Kitsap gets $9456.09.
It gets even worse.
Because families experiencing disabilities must live where the cost of living is as low as possible, 15.96% of Aberdeen's students have an IEP or 504 plan while only 12.6% of North Kitsap's students do.
And worse yet...
Against all evidence, legislators don't trust school districts to accurately report their Special Education population, expecting that districts will game the system to over-identify students who need Special Education. So they have set an arbitrary 13.5% cap on the total population. This means that North Kitsap gets paid for each of their Special Education students, while Aberdeen gets paid for a little more than 3 out of every 4 students. Specifically, North Kitsap gets paid $9456.09 while Aberdeen gets paid $7031.87 per enrolled SpEd student. $2400 dollars less per student. This 13.5% cap has been described as illegal by the State Superintendent of Public instruction.
This is by no means the worst-case scenario. There are local school districts, such as Elma, with significantly higher SpEd enrollment than Aberdeen. There are others who have significantly less. For instance, Bellevue has less than half the Special Ed enrollment ratio (7.72%). This isn't secret knowledge, it's all available, for any school district, on the OSPI website.
Meanwhile, the specialized services that students need are no cheaper in Aberdeen. Aberdeen competes with Puget Sound schools for Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Applied Behavioral Analysis Technicians, etc. But they have to do it for $2400 per student less.
A cynic might think that the reason for the differential is not about the cost of living but because none of the coastal caucus legislators sit on any education committees.
As dad would say; "It's enough to piss off the Good Humor man".