rolling back

After backlash, city tweaks new special education funding rules

The Department of Education is rolling back some special education policies that drew sharp criticism last week from many principals.

The principals were alarmed by a deadline, originally set for today, to “clean up” data about students with disabilities. The deadline raised concerns that the department would take back funds from schools whose students fell into lower-than-anticipated funding tiers.

“The last-minute data capture has left us scrambling to account for potentially massive cuts to our budgets halfway through the school year,” 20 principals wrote Thursday in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

In an email sent late Friday, the department’s chief financial officer, Michael Tragale, told principals that the department would push back the deadline and relax a particularly anxiety-inducing rule so schools could retain their special education funds.

“If your school operates on a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), students that receive special education services in their four core classes (English, Math, Science and History) will be identified for funding purposes as students who receive full-time special education services,” he wrote, noting that the policy could change again next year.

Under the arrangement, students technically spend 57 percent of their time in special education classes, narrowly missing a 60 percent cutoff to draw extra funding. Some principals said they had so many students falling just below the threshold that they faced having to return more than $100,000 to the department.

Tragale also assured principals that reclassifying some students who receive special education services as “general education” in the department’s attendance and budgeting data system, as the department is asking them to do, would not lower the schools’ annual grades, which some principals had feared. The department will still count the students as having disabilities when awarding extra credit to schools whose highest-need students make academic progress.

And Tragale said all schools would have an extra week to check data about students with special needs. The extra time will increase the likelihood that schools’ data — and funding — are accurate. But it also means additional time away from students for special education teachers charged with resolving more than 50,000 discrepancies between two data systems.

A high school principal said he was relieved to learn that he would not lose funding because of the way his school schedules students with disabilities. But he said the department would be better off rolling new policies out slowly than scaling them back after drawing protest.

“I compare it to the academic policy changes that were done last year,” said the principal, referring to new policies announced in February 2012. “I don’t agree with all of those, but they certainly gave time and plenty of notice so that schools couldn’t say they’re changing the game on us in the middle. I don’t know why this isn’t the same way.”

Mark Anderson, a teacher who heads the special education department at Jonas Bronck Academy in the Bronx, said he thought that, even addressed, the situation reflected broader problems in the way the city is implementing special education policy changes.

“It just doesn’t seem like there’s someone in charge directing things, from central,” Anderson said. “Sometimes it seems like there’s as much confusion at the upper level as there is at the lower level. And that’s ultimately reflected on the ground level. Because there’s a lack of clarity on how things should be done.”

Tragale’s complete message to principals about the special education data concerns is below:

From: “Tragale Michael”
Date: January 11, 2013, 7:51:38 PM EST
To: “&All Principals”
Subject: Update on Midyear Adjustment Reconciliation

Dear Colleagues:

I understand that our shared effort to provide increased access to students with disabilities has raised a lot of questions regarding the mid-year budget adjustment process. I’m writing to provide additional guidance and clarification for your immediate use.

As you know, the Fair Student Funding formula for students with disabilities was adjusted this year as part of our work to educate students in their least restrictive environment and to provide funds needed for part-time (single and multiple) services. In response to principal concerns regarding the funding formula:

  • We will adjust the formula for schools with a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), detailed in the Adjustment section below.
  • We will extend the deadline by which you must reconcile student data in ATS to January 23, detailed in the Next Steps section below.
  • We will honor appeals for data discrepancies, detailed in the Next Steps section below.

Please review the information below for immediate next steps and for a summary of these issues.

Sincerely,

Michael Tragale
Chief Financial Officer, New York City Department of Education

Adjustment to Fair Student Funding Formula

If your school operates on a seven period day (eight periods minus lunch), students that receive special education services in their four core classes (English, Math, Science and History) will be identified for funding purposes as students who receive full-time special education services. This adjustment is only applicable for these core classes and will be reviewed for FY 2014.

Clarification on School Scheduling and Student Services

Principals have reported confusion regarding how the total number of periods a week that a student is recommended to receive services and how the total number of periods in a school’s week are reflected. The DOE is using the following determinations to calculate the total number of periods in your school’s week:

  • Middle and high school period calculations will be determined from data in STARS.
  • Elementary school period calculations will be determined using the assumption of a 30 period week.
  • Instruction includes all periods (including electives and physical education) except for lunch, extended day, and discretionary before- and after-school programs.

The DOE is using SESIS data to capture the total periods per week that a student is receiving special education services.

Immediate Next Steps and Data Appeals

Your network will receive an updated report that details the discrepancies in your school between SESIS and ATS by student. This report replaces data that was previously based on minutes of service; it now reflects periods of service.

1. You should work with your network to review your school’s data for possible discrepancies and ensure that ATS reflects each student’s services appropriately by January 23. Possible discrepancies in the data include:

  • If the number of instructional periods indicated for your school is different than displayed on the discrepancy report, you should indicate the actual number. For example, the report notes you have seven daily periods but your school has eight. Periods should not include lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs.
  • SESIS indicates that a program recommendation of ICT to be provided in the subject area, where “Other” was selected for five periods. “Other” may have been intended to represent multiple subjects (such as English and Math). The correct number of periods should be indicated in the school’s data appeal.
  • When updating grade codes or the USPE screen, ensure that the effective date is retroactive to when the service began.

2. You should work with your network if you decide that you need to appeal data discrepancies that have been reported. Possible reasons for a data appeal include:

  • If we have captured an incorrect amount of total periods per week for your school.
  • If the total number of service periods for an individual student is incorrect.
  • If the start/end dates in SESIS were entered incorrectly and not reflected in the budget report.

3. You should work with your network to determine the impact any updates will have on your mid-year adjustment.

Examples of Correct ATS Coding for Students with Disabilities:

1. Student A has an IEP that calls for one period a day of SETSS for math. The school has a total of seven instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 1/7th of the school day, which is 14.3% of the day. This student should be entered into a general education grade code with the single-service flag selected on the USPE screen. This will drive funding in the <=20% FSF category to the school.

2. Student B has an IEP that states two periods a day of ICT for English and Math, and one period a day in a self-contained classroom for Science. The school has a total of seven instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 3/7th of the school day, which is 42.9% of the day. This student should be entered into a general education grade code with the multi-service flag selected on the USPE screen. This will drive funding in the 21%-59% FSF category to the school.

3. Student C has five periods a day in a self-contained classroom for the subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. The school has a total of eight instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 5/8th of the school day, which is 62.5% of the day. This student should be entered into a self-contained grade code in ATS. This will drive funding in the >=60%, self-contained category to the school.

4. Student D has five periods a day in an ICT classroom for the subjects of English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. The school has a total of eight instructional periods a day, not including lunch, extended day, or before/after school programs. This student is receiving services for 5/8th of the school day, which is 62.5% of the day. This student should be entered into an ICT grade code in ATS. This will drive funding in the >=60%, ICT category to the school.

Context on the Fair Student Funding Formula

The Fair Student Funding rate is based on the percent of instructional time (defined by number of periods a day) that a student requires special education services during the regular school day. More information about determining this percentage is available in this chart.

In September, schools began using the USPE screen in ATS to capture information about students who require part-time special education services. Students in either self-contained or integrated co-teaching classes for 60% or more of the week continue to be coded in a full-time special education grade code in ATS. Students receiving part-time services are now indicated in ATS using a general education grade code with a flag to identify if they receive either related services only (RO REL SERVICE ONLY), services for 20% or less of the week (SG SINGLE SERVICE), or services for 21%-59% of the week (ML MULTI-SERVICE). Please note that moving a student from a special education grade code (starting or ending with 9) into a general education grade code does not impact a school’s progress report, nor does it affect the IEP designation in a student’s official ATS profile.

Context on Data Issues Reported

A comparison of IEP data in SESIS and data entered by schools in ATS currently displays discrepancies between the services a student is mandated to receive in SESIS (as per their IEP) compared to the student’s programming in ATS (as per either the special education grade code or USPE data). These discrepancies highlight instances of students with disabilities with part-time program recommendations in SESIS, who are coded as receiving full-time services in ATS, and vice versa.

These discrepancies have serious implications for how students are receiving mandated services. As the DOE is committed to ensure students’ mandated services are being provided in the least restrictive setting appropriate, we need schools’ assistance in reconciling this information to ensure student programs match student IEPs.

Additionally, the information on the USPE screen will also replace the Special Education Integration Survey (SEIS). Using this screen was intended to be a faster and more convenient process for schools in comparison to the print-out process used previously for the SEIS schedule. It is therefore critical that services reflected be an accurate representation of services received.

money matters

Why Gov. Hickenlooper wants to give some Colorado charter schools $5.5 million

Students at The New America School in Thornton during an English class. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

If Mike Epke, principal of the New America School in Thornton, had a larger budget, he would like to spend it on technical training and intervention programs for his students.

He would buy more grade-level and age appropriate books for the empty shelves in his school’s library, and provide his teachers with a modest raise. If he could really make the dollars stretch, he’d hire additional teacher aides to help students learning with disabilities.

“These are students who have not had all the opportunities other students have had,” the charter school principal said, describing his 400 high school students who are mostly Hispanic and come from low-income homes.

A $5.5 million budget request from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, could help Epke make some of those dreams a reality.

The seven-figure ask is part of Hickenlooper’s proposed budget that he sent to lawmakers earlier this month. The money would go to state-approved charter schools in an effort to close a funding gap lawmakers tried to eliminate in a landmark funding bill passed in the waning days of the 2017 state legislative session.

Funding charter schools, which receive tax dollars but operate independently of the traditional school district system, is a contentious issue in many states. Charter schools in Colorado have enjoyed bipartisan support, but the 2017 debate over how to fund them hit on thorny issues, especially the state’s constitutional guarantee of local control of schools.

The legislation that ultimately passed, which had broad bipartisan support but faced fierce opposition from some Democrats, requires school districts by 2020 to equitably share voter-approved local tax increases — known as mill levy overrides — with the charter schools they approved.

The bill also created a system for lawmakers to send more money to charter schools, like New America in Thornton, that are governed by the state, rather than a local school district.

Unlike district-approved charter schools, which were always eligible to receive a portion of local tax increases, state-approved charter schools haven’t had access to that revenue.

Terry Croy Lewis, executive director of the Charter School Institute, or CSI, the state organization that approves charter schools, said it is critical lawmakers complete the work they started in 2017 by boosting funding to her schools.

“It’s a significant amount of money,” she said. “To not have that equity for our schools, it’s extremely concerning.”

CSI authorizes 41 different charters schools that enrolled nearly 17,000 students last school year. That’s comparable to both the Brighton and Thompson school districts, according to state data.

Hickenlooper’s request would be a small step toward closing the $18 million gap between state-approved charter schools and what district-run charter schools are projected to receive starting in 2020, CSI officials said.

“Gov. Hickenlooper believes that working to make school funding as fair as possible is important,” Jacque Montgomery, Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This is the next step in making sure that is true for more children.”

If lawmakers approve Hickenlooper’s request, the New Legacy charter school in Aurora would receive about $580 more per student in the 2018-19 school year.

Jennifer Douglas, the school’s principal, said she would put that money toward teacher salaries and training — especially in the school’s early education center.

“As a small school, serving students with complex needs, it is challenging and we need to tap into every dollar we can,” she said.

The three-year old school in Aurora serves both teen mothers and their toddlers. Before the school opened, Douglas sent in her charter application to both the Aurora school board and CSI. Both approved her charter application, but because at the time her school would receive greater access to federal dollars through CSI, Douglas asked to be governed by the state.

Douglas said that her preferred solution to close the funding gap would be to see local tax increases follow students, regardless of school type or governance model. Until that day, she said, lawmakers must “ensure that schools have the resources they need to take care of the students in our state and give them the education they deserve.”

For Hickenlooper’s request to become a reality, it must first be approved by the legislature’s budget committee and then by both chambers. In a hyper-partisan election year, nothing is a guarantee, but it appears Hickenlooper’s proposal won’t face the same fight that the 2017 charter school funding bill encountered.

State Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat who helped lead the charge against the charter school funding bill, said he was likely going to support Hickenlooper’s proposal.

“You almost have to do it to be in alignment with the law,” Melton said. “I don’t think with a good conscious I could vote against it. I’m probably going to hold my nose and vote yes.”

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”