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Flint, MI: SPED numbers increase from 15% to 28% due to lead in water supply

Dec 20, 2019, Detroit Free Press: Fix special ed funding to help kids across Michigan Five years after a state-appointed emergency manager’s disastrous decision to switch Flint’s water supply, the lead crisis has moved to the city’s public schools, where educators simply lack the resources to provide the special education services needed by lead-poisoned students. A recent front-page New York Times article returned national attention to the harmful impacts of the State of Michigan’s policies on Flint residents: The share of Flint Community Schools students eligible for special education has increased to about 28%, from 15% the year the lead crisis began. That's double the state average. Students with disabilities are more costly to educate, and under Michigan’s outdated and inadequate school funding system, this spiraling need places a crushing burden on Flint schools. … Michigan, however, is one of only five states that uses a percentage reimbursement system to distribute special education funds. The state reimburses local districts and charter schools for 28.6% of their approved special education expenditures, the lowest rate among states using the reimbursement approach. Wyoming, by contrast, reimburses 100% of special education costs. So, in Michigan, the state and federal governments pay for roughly 40% of special education, which means the remaining 60% must be paid by local districts — yet Proposal A, passed by Michigan voters in 1994, prevents districts from levying taxes to cover additional special education costs. … The result is wildly divergent special education funding across ISDs, dependent on property wealth, voters’ willingness to tax themselves, and state millage rate caps in the ISD. Importantly, Michigan’s inadequate special education funding impacts not only students with disabilities, but all students. Nearly all Michigan school districts must use regular education funds to pay for special education services required by law. Statewide, the annual transfer of regular education funds to pay for special education services exceeds $700 million, or over $500 per student. Some districts annually devote over $1,200 per-pupil of their regular funds to special education. Indeed, chronic shortfalls in special education funding are a major reason why so many schools, in Flint and across Michigan, struggle to maintain regular instructional programs; to offer compensation needed to attract and retain qualified teachers and to provide the counselors, nurses, and academic and non-academic supports students need. Michigan’s failure to provide adequate, cost-based special education funding also creates powerful incentives to scrimp on the special education services that parents and educators know students need. Sadly, students with disabilities almost always represent a financial loss to districts and charter schools, and the more serious their disabilities, the larger the financial loss. For all these reasons, Flint’s school funding falls dramatically short of paying for services urgently needed by lead-poisoned children…. The state is not meeting these fundamental obligations. Until it does, students in Flint and other high-need Michigan districts will continue to suffer.


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