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Commonwealth's Counties

Children’s Services Act Workgroup on Special Education Refining Recommendations

A stakeholder workgroup tasked with examining the use of Children’s Services Act (CSA) funding to support special education needs met on June 21 to continue developing a set of recommendations in advance of a November 1 report deadline. The group was created by legislation that passed in 2021 and is charged with developing a detailed plan for the transfer of CSA private day school and residential placement funding to the Department of Education. The 2021 legislation also directed the group to make recommendations on the use of CSA funding to support students with special educational needs within public schools, 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 began discussions at its May meeting on a draft plan for the transition of private day school and residential placement funding and administration to the Department of Education; at the request of workgroup members, a more extensive draft plan was circulated in advance of the June meeting. Workgroup members agreed to advance the following elements of a recommended plan to the next meeting for final approval:

  • Implement the transfer beginning July 1, 2024 to allow additional time for the transition.
  • Maintain sum sufficiency funding requirements for students with disabilities who are placed in private day or residential placements and continue to use CSA match rates for these placements, rather than the Local Composite Index (the workgroup requested the inclusion of detailed language explaining the differences between the two match rates and specifying how the fiscal impact on localities would be minimized).
  • Incorporate regulatory language and statutory changes required for the transfer.
  • Retain funding and administrative responsibility for special education wraparound services within the Office of Children’s Services and local CSA programs (these services support children’s needs that extend beyond the school day and are funded by a capped allocation in the state budget).
  • Include a staffing plan for the Department of Education to support this function. Workgroup members pointed out the need to consider the effects on local school divisions, which will likely be assuming an increased workload in managing contracts for private day and residential placements, as this function has generally been performed by local Children’s Services Act programs.
  • Specify that the current process for placing children would not change, nor would student data collection.
  • Include provisions for monitoring and accountability.

The workgroup revisited the issue of potential expansion of the Students with Intensive Support Needs Application (SISNA), which was discussed at the May meeting. The 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 exhausted the funding. Members were interested in potentially expanding the SISNA program, which currently serves children in six disability categories, to encompass additional categories of disabilities, as a potential parallel support for children with high-level needs, while leaving the structure of the private day and residential placements intact. One legislator participating in the workgroup outlined a potential scenario in which a school division could support a student previously served in a private placement in his/her return to public school with the new transition funding available through CSA for up to 12 months, and then pivot to SISNA funding to continue services.

The next meeting of the workgroup will be held on August 9.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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