A stakeholder workgroup tasked with examining the use of Children’s Services Act (CSA) funding to support special education needs met again on May 19. The group was created by legislation that passed in 2021; the bill directed the workgroup to develop a detailed plan for the transfer of CSA private day school and residential placement funding to the Department of Education, as well as to make recommendations on the use of CSA funding to support students with special educational needs within public school, to include the use of CSA funds to avoid out-of-school placements, as well as the most effective use of CSA funds to transition students from out-of-school placements back to public schools. The workgroup has been meeting since summer 2021 in advance of a November 1 report deadline.
At this week’s meeting, the workgroup received a presentation from Montgomery County Public Schools on the school division’s inclusive framework for serving children with disabilities. Through a set of supports developed over time, including a low student-teacher ratio, professional development to assist teachers and school staff in working with students with disabilities, family engagement efforts, and both in-house and contracted Board-Certified Behavior Analysts, the school division successfully serves most of its special education students within the school division. In FY 2021, Montgomery County placed only five children in private day placements out of approximately 1200 special education students.
Dr. Samantha Hollins, Assistant Superintendent at the Department of Education, and Tracie Coleman, Director of the Office of Special Education Finance and Budget, provided an overview of a funding mechanism housed at the Department of Education that supports special education services for students with high-level needs. The Students with Intensive Support Needs Application (SISNA) process has replaced the Regional Tuition Reimbursement Program, which was established in the 1970s to assist school divisions with serving children with certain disabilities that were not widespread at the time but required assistance that would stress some school divisions’ resources. The Regional Tuition Reimbursement Program was restructured after a 2015 study so that each school division would have an opportunity to apply for funds. Under the new SISNA process, school divisions identify students who meet the eligibility requirements and apply for funds on a reimbursement basis; the Department of Education works with the school division to determine whether it would be more advantageous for the school division to receive a payment under SISNA instead of standard per-pupil funding (the Local Composite Index is also applied to SISNA payments). SISNA reimbursements are funded by a line-item allocation in the budget; although this allocation is capped, as of yet, the Department has not run out of funding.
The SISNA briefing was followed by group discussion of the presentations as well as discussion of a preliminary plan for the transfer of CSA private day and residential special education placement funding to the Department of Education, which was circulated to members earlier in the week. The plan proposes the following:
- The transfer of funding would be implemented beginning July 1, 2024.
- Sum-sufficiency for students with disabilities placed in private schools would be maintained.
- CSA match rates, not the local composite index, would continue to be used for these private placements.
- CSA funds would be transferred to VDOE at the highest amount expended in the last five years for private special education placements and the new special education transitional services.
- Special education wrap-around funding would remain with the Office of Children’s Services (these funds support children’s needs that extend beyond the school setting and threaten the student’s ability to be maintained in the home, community, or school setting).
- VDOE would address procedures and staffing needs to support the new functions.
With respect to the use of CSA funding to support service delivery within public schools, the preliminary plan recommends exploration of expanding the disability categories covered by SISNA payments. The preliminary plan recommends collection of more data on the utilization of the new transition services funding. As the preliminary plan had been circulated two days before the meeting, work group members requested additional time to review its contents. The work group’s next meeting is June 21.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle