by Cathy Camley, Learning Disabilities Association of British Columbia, November, 2014
The truth about your child’s funding….it ISN’T meant exclusively for your child.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about funding and services. This misunderstanding is something that the districts rarely clarify for parents as it serves their purpose for parents to remain ignorant of the truth.
IF your child is designated as a student with special needs, the district receives additional funding – NOT for them, but for the district to use to serve all students with special needs. That is, the funding is NOT tied to your child. If you child generates 30K in funds, the district is NOT obliged to spend 30K on your child. In some cases, services to meet a child’s needs will exceed that 30K. In other cases, it will be well under the amount generated by their category. This is the funding model the Ministry has set up and every administrator knows full well how it works.
All the funds generated by all the kids with special needs goes into a pool of funds at the district level. Those funds are NOT sent to your child’s school to be used exclusively for your child. Parents are often led to believe there is a budget for their child’s services based on what the amount they generate and that the district should be able to show a shopping list of services equal to that amount. It doesn’t work that way.
From that pool of funding at the district level, a great many things are paid for like, School Psychology, SEA services, SLP services, OT/PT services, Hospital Homebound Program, Itinerant teachers, Specialized Teams for Autism, Audiology, Special District Programs, and staff at the district’s Student Services department, etc.
At the beginning of the year, the district decides, by a formula, how much SEA time each school will get. They also hold back a pool of SEA time at the district level. Where there is a greater need at some schools, principals can apply for additional SEA time. That comes from the held back pool. Demand always exceeds that resource so not all requests are granted for extra SEA time.
I have often heard parents talk about “unfunded kids” using up “funded kids’” money. This is a misunderstanding too. Those “unfunded kids” do get funding. Funds for them (high incidence students like LD, ADHD, Mild Intellectual Disabilities, etc.) are provided within the money that the district gets for all students – disabled and typical. For every bum in a seat, the district gets funds. When the Ministry changed the way districts were funded they bumped up that per student amount to cover the cost of high incidence learners. So those kids are funded…just not as directly as students in the low incidence categories.
The actual way your child receives services is based on their “identified needs.” That means whatever specialist assessed your child’s disability will have also assessed their needs. “Needs” are things like, “would benefit from the use of a laptop,” or, “requires the support of an SEA,” or, “requires Speech and Language therapy,” etc. The person who assesses your child’s needs has expertise in making those assessments and recommendations. A teacher or principal does not have that level of expertise in the eyes of the law so they cannot overrule the assessor as long as the assessor is qualified in their field. That means that school staff must follow what the assessor has recommended or provide a substitute for that recommendation that is equal or superior to what the assessor has recommended. For example, if the assessor has recommended someone scribe for the student, it would be a proper alternative to provide a software program that would scribe.
So, from year to year you might well see some changes in the level of services offered to your child. It may be that they are no longer legitimately required as your child grows in independence and greater skill development. However, again, it must be because your child needs are such that they don’t require it. If this is not the case, and you feel your child still requires a specific level of services that have been reduced, you have a rightful claim to have that level of service reinstated. Ask the district to show you how your child has improved to the point they no longer require that level of service.
If you base your argument on “He’s funded, so therefore he gets,” they can and will shut your request down quite quickly. They will plead poverty…and while it is true that most districts are underfunded, the law maintains that if your child has an identified need, that identified need must be met. The test is that providing the service to meet that identified need would place an “undue hardship” on the district. And that would be next to impossible for a district to prove. For example, most districts offer French Immersion programs. A wonderful alternative educational opportunity….but it is NOT mandated by the Ministry that districts provide them. In most cases offering a French Immersion program is expensive as many classes are well under capacity. So, in the eyes of the law, meeting the identified needs of a special education student MUST come before offering extras like French Immersion, Montessori, Fine Arts Schools, Hockey Academies, etc. In short, all the basic educational needs of all students must be met first before these extras can be offered. Is that true of your district? The courts have long held that meeting every child’s basic needs is the first priority.
So, if you want to fight for additional services for your child, look to their assessment and the recommendations the expert who assessed your child said will meet your child’s needs. Demand that those recommendations are provided. If your child’s needs have changed over time, have the assessment reviewed and new recommendations added. Just a note that your child may have had more than one area assessed, for example, by a psychologist, a Speech Pathologist, and OT/PT….all of their recommendations should be implemented.