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Children’s Services Act legislation heads to the Governor

Several bills were introduced during the 2021 session to implement recommendations from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report on the Children’s Services Act (CSA), which was released in November 2020.  The successful legislation this session addressed private day placements and the relationship between the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and local CSA programs.  Other aspects of the JLARC report were introduced as budget amendments; VACo will report on the inclusion of budget language regarding CSA in its analysis of the budget conference report once that document is released.

HB 2117 (VanValkenburg) and SB 1313 (Mason) are the vehicles for legislation dealing with private day placements, and as passed stipulate that private special education day programs must be licensed by the Board of Education or an equivalent out-of-state licensing agency in order to receive CSA funding; by July 1, 2022, such programs may only receive CSA funding if they have reported their tuition rates to OCS.  The bills also allow CSA funding to support transitional services provided in public schools for up to 12 months for children who were previously placed in private day placements for at least six months.  Transitional services are intended to support children with significant disabilities or intensive support needs in succeeding in the public school environment and may include behavioral health services, occupational therapy, especially designed instruction, or other services needed to facilitate a child’s transition back to public school.

The bills also include an extensive enactment clause directing the convening of a stakeholder group to develop a detailed plan to direct the transfer of CSA private day placement funds to the Department of Education, which would include recommendations on the use of CSA funds to support children with disabilities so that they may remain in the public school setting.  The workgroup is directed to include in its plan recommendations for how the Department of Education should administer funding so that it prioritizes children with the most severe disabilities who are at risk of (or currently in) an out-of-school placement and it is accessible to all school divisions.  The plan is also directed to minimize the fiscal impact on localities of transferring the funding and to include a review and analysis of different models of delivering special education.  The workgroup is authorized to solicit proposals from local school divisions for programs that would support children currently being served in private placements, to include details on how redirecting certain funding streams could allow some students to transition from private placements to public school, and may recommend proposals deemed to be feasible to the General Assembly.  A preliminary report is due to the “money committee” chairs by November 1, 2021, with a final plan and recommendations due November 1, 2022.  VACo has historically supported some flexibility in the use of CSA funds in order to bolster school divisions’ ability to serve children with high-level needs within the public school environment, and worked with the patrons on refinements to these bills to ensure clarity in drafting and a comprehensive approach to the study group’s scope of work.

HB 2212 (Plum) implements another JLARC recommendation and incorporates several concepts into the statutory responsibilities of the Director of the Office of Children’s Services.  The OCS director would be responsible for providing for the effective implementation of the Children’s Services Act in local programs by monitoring local performance measures and outcomes for children and families, using this data to identify local programs that need technical assistance, and working with struggling local programs to develop a corrective action plan.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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