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Workgroup on Special Education and the Children’s Services Act Underway

A stakeholder workgroup charged with making recommendations regarding the use of Children’s Services Act funding to support special education needs has held its first two meetings.  The workgroup was created by 2021 legislation that was introduced in response to a study of the Children’s Services Act by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that was released in fall 2020.  Among other changes, the legislation authorizes the use of CSA pool funds for up to 12 months of transitional services within the public school setting for youth who were previously placed in private school for at least six months.  In order to look more extensively at the issue of CSA funding for private special education placements, the legislation directed the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to convene a workgroup to develop a detailed plan for the transfer of CSA private day school funding to the Department of Education, make recommendations on the use of CSA funds for services within public schools to avoid out-of-school placements, and make recommendations on the most effective use of CSA funds to transition students from out-of-school placements back to public school.

Specific directives to the workgroup include the following:

  • The plan for transfer of CSA funds must include details on how VDOE would administer funding such that it is prioritized for students with the most severe disabilities who are in out-of-school placements, or at risk of such placements, and also such that the funding is equally accessible to all school divisions.
  • The plan must include recommendations for minimizing the financial impact of the new policy on localities and consider the effects of using CSA match rates or distributing funding through the Local Composite Index.
  • The plan must include a review and analysis of different models of delivering special education, including a review of specialty regional schools, in-school delivery of services by private special education providers, and in-school delivery of services by the school division.
  • The work group must collect data from school divisions that have delivered special education services to students with severe disabilities within the public school setting, as well as school divisions that have used CSA funds to pay for transition services, and use the data to identify the types of services and supports that have enabled children with severe disabilities to be successful in the public school setting and make recommendations for the types of services and supports that should be provided in public school using CSA funds.
  • The work group must consider whether transitional services are appropriate direct services to be covered by CSA funding and whether the current criteria for such funding are appropriate, and also evaluate whether CSA funding should be expanded to cover ongoing support for students with disabilities following the 12-month transition period.

Preliminary findings are due to the money committee chairs by November 1, 2021, and a final plan and recommendations are due by November 1, 2022.

At its August 24 meeting, the work group received information from the Department of Education and the Office of Children’s Services regarding the number and demographics of children with disabilities served in different settings, including private day and private residential placements (the only settings funded by CSA dollars).  Scott Reiner, Executive Director of the Office of Children’s Services, provided information comparing current expenditures by locality for CSA-funded special education services using local CSA match rates with projected local expenditures if costs for those services were shared via the Local Composite Index.  Slides from the meeting are available at this link.

Workgroup members discussed additional information to be collected for future meetings, including presentations from local school divisions that are successfully serving students within the public school environment as well as regional special education programs.  Significant concern was expressed by some members about the ramifications of moving funding away from the CSA structure, which requires a sum-sufficient commitment from the state and local governments, to a structure that may not include such a guarantee.  Senator Mason, the Senate representative on the State Executive Council and the Senate patron of legislation creating the workgroup, indicated that the transfer of funding is not a foregone conclusion, and that the workgroup should be evaluating the merits of such a plan in addition to developing a proposal for how such a transfer would be effectuated; several other state representatives suggested that federal and state requirements mandating the provision of free and appropriate public education would still apply regardless of the source of funds.  Members representing local governments stressed the importance of caution in transitioning funding to a potentially different funding structure and the need to minimize the effects on local budgets.

The workgroup discussed the establishment of several subgroups:  a group to examine the current process for special education placements and how schools serve students in general and special education classrooms; a funding subgroup; and a group reviewing regional programs and other innovative models.  The next workgroup meeting is scheduled for September 23.

VACo Contacts:  Katie Boyle and Jeremy R. Bennett

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