PCPCS Statement on FixSpecialEdFunding press conference
February 06, 2017
As is often the case at press conferences, the allegations made at the #FixSpecialEdFunding event oversimplify a complicated situation and may mask the real intention of the sponsors.
Two primary contentions and one recommendation are made.
The first contention is that current law provides “…financial incentive for charter schools to accept only students with disabilities who require minimal services…”
If that statement is true, then the corollary is also true – that is, the law also provides a financial incentive for districts to encourage the students who require the most significant support to transfer to a charter school.
In fact, the first is illegal, but the second isn’t. As a public school, charter schools are legally required to enroll every child who applies, subject only to the capacity of the charter school, and cannot solicit or screen for any reason, including any special education need. If anyone provides proof, rather than mere innuendo, that it is happening in any charter school, then that charter should change or be closed.
But districts can counsel the most expensive students to charter schools with total immunity.
The second contention is that charter schools are not legally required to spend all of the money passed through from the districts for special education on special education. That’s true, but charters still must meet the requirements of every student’s IEP; do not receive pass through from districts for some real and legitimate expenses; and do, with the most challenging special education situations, pay far more than they receive from the districts without the authority to raise taxes to cover those extraordinary costs.
The recommendation is that charter schools be included in the formula suggested by the Special Education Funding Commission, so let’s look at the history of that legislation and impact of that proposal.
In 2014, the bi-partisan Special Education Funding Commission did a very good job of investigating and proposing a three-tiered funding system that was not ideal, but was much more equitable than the previous system.
PCPCS supported the recommendation of the Commission. But in writing the legislation to implement the recommendation, the authors chose to fund the special education students attending charter schools differently than those attending district schools. More specifically, the legislation directed the implementation of the formula for districts only to the new special education money that was being added to the budget that fiscal year. This “hold harmless” methodology is the standard way to implement new legislation so that it doesn’t have a devasting impact on current operations of a school.
That is also the methodology used for implementing the Basic Education Funding Commission recommendation. But, for some reason, and in direct contradiction with the Commission Report, that was not the methodology proposed for charter schools. Instead, the proposed implementation of the new special education funding was to apply the formula to all money in the special education budget immediately. What that meant was that a special education student in a charter school would be receiving significantly less financial support than his or her counterpart in a district school with exactly the same challenges. Not only is that unfair, it is also discriminatory and in violation of federal law.
That’s why the legislation does not apply to charter schools.
What the FixSpecialEdFunding group is now proposing is to violate federal law by implementing a law which blatantly discriminates against one group of special education students based solely on the type of public school they attend.
It is disheartening to see education advocates, and especially special education advocates, supporting a position which discriminates against one group of special education students to retain more money for the districts. Again, the money seems to be more important than the children, and this time special education children.
It is also discouraging that FixSpecialEdFunding chose to hold a press conference rather than initiating an open a dialogue with the charter community to develop a joint proposal that would be both equitable and legal. But conflict perpetuates the existence of advocacy groups while resolution does not. So long as the motivation of adults continues to be who gets the money rather than what is best for ALL the children, the useless spending of taxpayer dollars will continue.
So here’s a three-step proposal from the charter community to clean up the law and make it fair and equitable for everyone.
1. Conduct a fair and unbiased investigation, similar to what was done by the Basic Education and Special Education Funding Commissions, to determine what the real costs are for charter schools to provide high-quality education in a fiscally responsible manner.
2. Pass through money to the charters for the actual cost (no more and no less) to deliver that education.
3. Pass through the actual costs (no more and no less) to charter schools for providing special education services.
If the legislature addresses only the special education issue without addressing the more complete picture of inequitable funding for charter schools, then it will force the closure of many charter schools –which is well-understood by many of the sponsors of this press conference, and may actually be the goal.
We welcome the opportunity to have an open dialogue that would hopefully result in equitable special funding for ALL children.