School District Panel on Special Education
STUDY OF THE FINANCING OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS
10:30 AM -- School District Panel on Special Education
The committee came back to order to hear from a panel of school district and BOCES administrators to discuss special education. Lucinda Hundley, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support Services, Littleton Public Schools, shared a handout with the committee on special education funding (Attachment B). She explained that in Colorado all children in special education are reimbursed at $1,250 per child. She explained that there are three tiers of funding: A, B, and C. She specifically reviewed the limited funding for Tier B students. She also discussed local, state, and national incidence trends on disabilities.
Troy Lange, Interim Executive Director, Mountain BOCES, continued the presentation, discussing Tier C students, specifically addressing out-of-district and in-district students. Representative Middleton asked Mr. Lange to define administrative unit and out-of-district students. He specifically addressed the costs associated with educating in-district and out-of-district students. He also defined educational orphans, who are students whose parents have had parental rights terminated, are incarcerated, cannot be located, or live out of state but the child is placed in the administrative unit, or a student who is legally emancipated. Mr. Lange also reviewed the Special Education Fiscal Advisory Committee's recommendations for the Tier A, B, and C students and educational orphans.
Senator Johnston asked what is the percentage breakdown of students in each tier. Mr. Lange explained that 100 percent of special education students are in Tier A; 22 percent are in Tier B; and about 60 to 70 students are in Tier C. Senator King asked about a recent court decision regarding out-of-district placement. Karen Pielin, Director of Special Education for the Thompson Valley School District, addressed his question, and shared information on another recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Senator Schwartz sought clarification regarding the Mountain BOCES allocation of $600,000. Mr. Lange explained why that allocation is high.
Representative Middleton asked about BOCES and regional service centers, efficiencies, areas of improvement, and changing the definition of administrative unit. Randy Boyer, San Juan BOCES, responded to the chair's questions, specifically noting that the administrative unit leadership is the critical issue and that it varies from unit to unit. He also addressed her comments regarding regional service areas. Mr. Lange also commented on Representative Middleton's remarks, stating that Colorado has not capitalized on aligning the special education system. Representative Middleton asked follow-up questions of Mr. Lange and Mr. Boyer. Mr. Lange explained that because of limited resources, it is a dilemma to collaborate with other units, but also noted that there are missed opportunities on a larger scale for districts to collaborate.
Senator King sought clarification of the recommendations presented by Mr. Lange. Carolena Guiral Steen, Director of Learning Services for the Cheyenne Mountain School District, addressed Senator King's questions, noting that in the Pikes Peak region the units have worked collaboratively to develop a plan for serving the highest-need children. She further noted that a student's needs determines whether an out-of-district or in-district placement is appropriate. Ms. Hundley discussed that smaller school districts in the Denver metro area are already collaborating to serve high-needs students, specifically noting that Sheridan and Englewood school districts send students to Littleton Public Schools (LPS) and pay tuition to LPS for those services.
Senator Johnston asked why neither Denver or Aurora are included on the in-district or out-of-district placement lists provided in the packet from CDE (Attachment A). Ms. Hundley explained that because of their larger budgets they are able to absorb the costs better than the smaller school districts. Representative Middleton asked if there is a demand to have centers created for specific disabilities. Ms. Hundley explained that the school she referenced is a school that serves deaf and hard of hearing students, and that community has its own culture and there was a desire by the parents to serve these students in their own community. Ms. Hundley further noted that if there are parents who want to form a charter for a specific disability, they may do so by working with the State Charter School Institute. Representative Middleton asked beyond chartering, if there is an interest in developing regional programs for specific disabilities. Ms. Hundley explained that in the Denver metro region, special education educators meet monthly about the regional needs. Senator Spence discussed other states that allow students to take funding to private schools and asked why school districts in Colorado do not favor that option. Mr. Lange addressed the Senator's question, noting that parents may also seek reimbursement for excess costs in addition to federal and state dollars. Discussion ensued on the costs incurred for school districts when students with disabilities opt out of the public school system.
Ms. Hundley also responded to Senator Spence's questions, noting that in addition to fiscal issues, it also raises legal issues because of the lack of oversight of private educational programs. Senator Spence explained that the parent has the option to waive due process rights for the child. Committee discussion ensued on private school placements for students with disabilities, with Senator King asking how many out-of-district placements are in private schools. Ms. Pielin discussed the difference between CDE-approved facilities and those that are not approved.
Mr. Lange commented on the RtI presentation by Dr. Steinberg. He shared his experience with observing RtI, noting the intensity levels of intervention and the need for a sufficient number of qualified teachers who are trained in providing the interventions. He noted the importance of focusing on a school's ability to provide the appropriate instruction as opposed to looking at a student's deficiency. Ms. Hundley also commented on the use of federal stimulus funds for special education services, noting that LPS lacks sufficient funding now for current services, so stimulus funds are used to cover existing services, not to expand services. Mr. Lange also commented that stimulus funds in Mountain BOCES are being used to meet current obligations, in particular, to meet reporting obligations. Mr. Boyer explained that San Juan BOCES is pleased to have additional federal dollars, but that those dollars do not have a great amount of flexibility in their usage.
Ms. Pielin also addressed Senator Spence's question regarding private schooling and the financial hardship it creates for families, therefore making it an untenable option for many families. She also discussed the positive behavioral supports component of RtI, which she noted is an important complement to the academic component. Senator Spence responded to Ms. Pielin's comments regarding private schooling and financial hardship.
Representative Middleton asked about Medicaid billing efficiencies. Ms. Hundley responded that Medicaid is a supplemental funding stream, but that the school district has not realized any efficiencies from the use of Medicaid dollars because of the cost and time to submit for reimbursement expenses. Committee discussion ensued on Medicaid billing, specifically regarding the administrative burden.
Senator King asked Ms. Pielin if in implementing RtI, males have been overidentified as having disabilities. Ms. Pielin responded that she did not have the statistics, but that there continue to be more males than females identified with disabilities. Senator King explained that he believes that there is a fundamental discrimination of overidentifying African-American male students into special education, and would like to create a fairer mechanism for identification of students with disabilities. Mr. Lange commented on Senator King's remarks, noting that he believes the bias is removed through the RtI process. Senator Hudak also responded to Senator King's remarks, stating that she believes females are underidentified, as opposed to males being overidentified because male behavior issues are exhibited more outwardly. Senator Hudak asked Mr. Lange to address his comments about the administrative burden for the stimulus funds. Ms. Hundley responded to Senator Hudak's comments, explaining that there is an increased emphasis on compliance, which creates overhead to track progress in the compliance areas.
Senator Steadman asked questions about the recommendations listed in the panel's packet regarding the increase of the per-pupil amount. The committee recessed for lunch.