Following what has become the standard playbook for the State Department of Education, Superintendent John White today surprised a committee with sweeping changes to the state’s special education program.
But the Special Education Advisory Panel refused to play patsy, and rejected White’s proposed special education funding formula on an 8-2 vote.
White told the panel that his plan for the $313 million spent each year on children with disabilities will not have a major impact on overall funding levels for school systems. It would, however, radically change the funding structure for special education programs.
Instead of allocating the same amount of money for all children identified for special services, White said, his plan would base funding on three categories into which children could be placed.
In addition, state funds to schools would be adjusted depending on the academic achievement of students, based on academic improvement targets.
A final adjustment of funding would be based on where a special needs child is educated, such as a residential facility, at home or in a hospital.
Panel members objected to the scope of the superintendent’s plan, saying that they did not receive proper notification of the changes and did not have time to study the proposal. Questions were raised about how White’s plan would be implemented, and whether or not it meets requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Members wanted to know why stakeholders were given no opportunity to play a role in developing White’s new policy.
Instead of approving White’s plan, the panel voted to create a task force to study the proposed changes and how they would affect school systems.
The vote may set up a conflict at the next meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state department expected BESE to approve his plan this spring and send it to the legislature for approval; but the panel recommended waiting at least until the 2014-15 before the changes go into effect.
The special education funding plan is also expected to be discussed at the next Parish Superintendents Advisory Council meeting on February 14.