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September 30, 2003

For More Information, Contact:
Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6384


PALO ALTO – Assemblyman Joe Simitian announced today that the Governor has signed Assembly Bill 1649 into law, clearing the way for state support of some of California’s most fragile and needy students.

AB 1649 allows children who are severely disabled to receive special education funding and services, whether they receive those services in a local school environment close to home, or in a skilled nursing facility far removed from their home and local school district.  The bill is designed to relieve small school districts from the burden of funding the entire cost of special education services for severely disabled children in skilled nursing facilities.

Although the new law applies statewide, it stems from and directly affects the Cambrian Union School District in San Jose, which has been particularly hard hit by the impacts of the current law and funding system.  The school district is home to fewer than 3,000 students.

What many of Cambrian’s children call “home” is not the same as what other Cambrian kids call “home.” Within the Cambrian School District’s boundaries is a skilled nursing facility that cares for medically fragile children with special education needs.  These children come from all over the State – as far as 300 miles away.  The facility has become their “home,” although their families live far away.

Cambrian is both lucky and unlucky to have such a facility within its borders. It’s a boon for the District’s medically fragile children and those from around the State. But the costs can be profound—as much as $50,000 to $80,000 per child. One would expect such costs to be borne equally by the school districts that send their children to the skilled nursing facility. But under current State law, each child in a skilled nursing or pediatric acute care facility is defined as a resident of the school district in which that facility resides—regardless of where the child’s family resides.

“It’s like saying, ‘Let’s send the State’s most needy children—with the most significant special education needs—to live under one roof and force a single school district to pay all of the costs,’” explains Judy Chirco, San Jose city council member and former Cambrian School Board member. “That’s essentially what’s happened to Cambrian, and it’s happening to a handful of other small school districts around the State.”

Simitian first became aware of Cambrian’s problem through Chirco, while Chirco was serving on the Cambrian School Board. While the State and local school districts were disputing financial responsibility for these children, Cambrian was facing financial hardship not of its own making.

“Some one had to step in and make the system work for special education kids and our smaller school districts,” says Chirco. “Joe had the patience and the savvy to get the job done.”

“The special challenge of our public schools,” said Simitian, “is that we make a place for every youngster – no matter how great their needs.  The difficulty is funding that effort.  How do we take care of youngsters with extraordinary needs, be fair to our smaller school districts, and protect funds that ought to serve the entire student population?  That’s the question.  Without some care and sensitivity,” said Simitian, “it’s all too easy to pit one group of students and families against another.”

The signing of AB 1649 is the culmination of a year-long effort by Simitian to address the unique challenges encountered by small school districts that are home to skilled nursing facilities.  “The hardest part of this issue was getting people to pay attention to a dilemma that affects only a few school districts and a relative handful of kids.  But once people understood the severity of the problem, everyone worked together to find a solution,” said Simitian. 

AB 1649 provides that funds in the State’s “shared cost pool” may be used for youngsters in skilled nursing facilities. Typically, money from the shared cost pool goes to programs for foster care and youngsters placed in group homes. AB 1649 will allow Cambrian and other small school districts to use these funds to pay for the costs of educating children in skilled nursing and pediatric acute care facilities.

Simitian’s AB 1649 specifically requires the State to reimburse local education agencies for services provided to children with special needs who reside in skilled nursing facilities in districts with fewer than 3,000 students.