Some disability advocates are concerned that Tennessee’s new funding formula could incentivize school districts to identify more students with disabilities or even adversely affect the services these students receive.
In a letter sent to members of the Senate Education Committee on Monday, the Tennessee Disability Coalition raised concerns that student-based allocations, or weights, in the new formula “as proposed will encourage schools to choose a more restrictive environment for their students. Disabilities.”
The Tennessee investment in student achievement, the new formula unveiled by Governor Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwein last month, provides a fixed amount of funding per student as well as $ 1.8 billion divided by student weights, or subgroups.
Schools can receive additional funding from $ 1,029 to $ 10,290 for students with one of ten unique learning needs, including disabilities.
“Building weights for students with disabilities (or unique learning needs) is of great concern to the disabled community,” Jeff Strand, the coalition’s administration and foreign affairs coordinator, wrote in a letter also sent to the Tennessee Department. Of education last week.
Strand argues that TISA uses the same special education classification options as the state’s current funding formula, the Basic Education Program (BEP), which state officials said they would improve.
“It simply replicates the department’s previous practices and creates incentives for schools to over-identify and ‘over-place’ students with disabilities,” Strand wrote.
Special or exceptional education services can range from taking extra time on tests to individual support, one-on-one additional training staff. In some cases, students with more intensive or medical needs may spend most of the school day in separate classrooms with a smaller student-teacher ratio and curricula and alternative schedules.
Over the years, educators and special education experts have advocated that students be educated in the general education environment, spend time and receive instruction with their peers. Federal law requires placing students in the least restrictive environment.
“When students receive more services for a larger portion of the day, they spend less time in the classroom in general education and less time with their typical peers. This can be detrimental to students,” Strand wrote.
The coalition fears that with additional state funding related to student needs, schools may make decisions that have “fiscal logic for the school,” but may lead to more structured or restrictive placement for individual students.
Schwinn called the coalition’s concerns too early.
During a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Finance Committees on Monday, Schwein addressed a letter at the request of Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.
Schwein said the department has assigned percentages of weights to how students are already classified according to the current formula. She also noted that the concerns were to “slightly advance the law-making process” on which much of the legislation would depend.
“I think what the Disability Coalition is looking at is how you define these weights. And it’s not something that will happen until you pass a formula,” Schwinn later clarified to reporters. “So what we did was we did a crosswalk so we could budget, but we didn’t really define what went into those unique learning needs.”
Schools also receive federal funding for students with disabilities, and will not see any change in those funding, Schwinn said.
Schwinn also noted that representatives from the Tennessee Disability Coalition served on one of the department’s 187 subcommittees launched last fall to review the state’s current funding formula and have not previously raised such concerns.
Some lawmakers are also concerned about the amount of law enforcement that will need to be in place if the legislation passes and a new formula is approved this year. Bell also raised concerns about the authority she would give to the department and the current administration, urging Equality and its staff to follow the regular law-making process, which requires hearings and public feedback.
The current formula proposal allocates additional funding percentages on a $ 6,860 student funding basis for each of ten unique learning needs, including:
- 15% for students with disabilities who receive direct counseling or services worth less than an hour a week
- 20% for students with disabilities who receive less than four hours of direct service per week, or for students with dyslexia characteristics or for English language learners in Stratum 1
- 40% for students with disabilities who receive direct services less than nine hours per week
- 60% for English learners in Stratum 2
- 70% for English learners in Stratum 3
- 75% for students with disabilities who receive direct services up to 14 hours per week
- 80% for students with disabilities who receive up to 23 hours per week of direct services
- 100% for students with disabilities who need an assistant or a professional for at least four hours a day
- 125% for students who receive direct services for 23 hours or more per week or who are placed in a classroom or in an independent environment
- 150% for students with disabilities placed in residential services or hospitalized or confined to their home
Legislation for the new formula first appeared before the K-12 Education Subcommittee last week and will make its debut during a Senate Education Committee hearing on Wednesday.
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Meghan Mangrum covers education for USA TODAY – Tennessee. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.