Lt. Governor Calley: Special Education is Underfunded- What Brought This About?

Dec 12, 2017 by

An Interview with Lt. Governor Calley: Special Education is Underfunded- What Brought This About?

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Lt. Governor Calley, thank you for responding to some questions about a recent report about Special education being under-funded. What brought about this investigation?

Students with disabilities are NOT achieving a comparable education to their peers. To fix this, we needed to analyze the current state of the special education finance system and then create recommendations to make it more student-centered. The question I wanted to answer was how can we identify a system that meets the needs of ALL students?

Additionally, since the Special Education Reform Task Force released its findings in 2016, I have worked to implement our recommendations to improve outcomes for all students. One of these recommendations focused on increasing access to, and improving the scope and quality of services. It’s clear that Michigan’s special education system is underfunded, and that directly impacts support services, which in turn impacts student outcomes. We will only be able to provide better education for students in special education with appropriate supports and services and a focus on outcomes.

2) As you know there are some groups in Special Education who may need more services than others- the blind and deaf and children with autism. Does your report address these ” low incidence ” groups?

Yes – in the original task force report, we zeroed in on an overarching concept needed across the whole system.  It is called Multi Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). Simply stated, as the needs of a student intensify, the services around that student must intensify to meet those needs.

3) What are the major costs in terms of special education- is it supplies or personnel?

Personnel is certainly the largest cost. Services for students with disabilities tend to be labor intensive and therefore require additional staff – teachers, paraprofessionals, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, and other service providers. In addition to staff costs, equipment, including assistive technology and mobility devices for students with disabilities can pose further costs to the schools, but are essential for optimal learning. While there are these costs potentially throughout a student’s school career, providing effective supports and services at an early age can improve the chances of independence later on, including employment.

4) Is there a shortage of trained special education personnel? I am thinking of occupational therapists, speech language therapists and physical therapists.

There is a shortage special education teachers and paraprofessionals. There is particularly a shortage of teachers who specialize in autism.  On the Michigan Association of School Administrators website alone, there are numerous postings for special education professionals. The subcommittee’s report addresses targeted funding to incentivize best practices and teacher preparation. Every student deserves a high-quality teacher and research indicates that the teacher is the most important factor within the school impacting a student’s success. In addition to the special education finance report, the Governor’s 21st Century Education Commission also addresses the issue of quality.

5) Who were the people involved in this investigation, and other than special education in general being underfunded, what were their main concerns?

The subcommittee included individuals with backgrounds in advocacy, education, finance, and public service. There was particular concern surrounding outcomes and that simply funding a system does not necessarily produce better results. As we move forward, we must employ evidence based practices and provide for ongoing, effective professional development services for school personnel.

6) What plans do you have to rectify the situation? Will taxes be raised?

I do not anticipate any tax increase proposals. However, the recommendations in the report would require additional funds from the state. The shortfall is significant and won’t be remedied overnight. I am advocating for steps forward in this year’s budget.

7) What have I neglected to ask?

While this report particularly addresses special education students, the recommendations would benefit all students. I believe that all students should have an individualized education so that we are meeting the unique needs of every child.

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