Dec. 22, 2016
Now that our schools are out for the holidays it's a good time to revisit some of the legal issues that will be decided in 2017.
Arguments have been heard in Fry v. Napoleon Public Schools (Case No. 15-497) and the Supreme Court will publish its decision in the case soon. This case will determine whether families must exhaust the remedies available to them under the IDEA before pursuing a case under the ADA.
Arguments are scheduled for Jan. 11 in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The court will make its decision in the case sometime thereafter. This case could have significant implications for schools as they work to education children with disabilities. The case is one in which the court will weigh in on the educational benefit a student must receive in order for the school to demonstrate that it is in compliance with the requirement to provide FAPE. In the case parents have argued that because their student wasn't making meaningful progress the school district should pay for placement at a private school.
Meanwhile, in Texas, US Dept. of Education officials have been conducting town hall meetings across the state to solicit input from the public. Stories from the families who have spoken are emotional and show how challenging things can be for students and families when special education services are denied or delayed. Read more here: http://bit.ly/2hrZvgs
With these issues at the national level and the upcoming Kansas Supreme Court decision in Gannon v. Kansas, 2017 is poised to be an exciting year!
Oct. 10, 2016
Here's an update on the Texas special education identification policy that limits schools to identify 8.5% or less, of their student populations: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Feds-order-Texas-to-eliminate-use-of-benchmark-on-9652019.php?t=6dcfc9f295438d9cbb&cmpid=email-premium
Also on the legal front, the Supreme Court of the United States will soon weigh in on a couple of cases that are important in the world of special education. Fry v. Napoleon Public Schools (Case No. 15-497) is a case that addresses the use of a service animal by a special needs student. The case will help determine how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the IDEA are to work together to support the rights of handicapped children.
The second case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (No. 15-827) will decide what level of "educational benefit" schools must provide for children with disabilities to meet the FAPE (free, appropriate, public education) requirements in the IDEA.
Read more here:
Special Education - the Texas Report
Sept. 21, 2016
It was reported recently that the state of Texas has imposed a cap on the number of special education students who may be identified with a disability. The cap has been set at 8.5% and has been in place since 2004. You can read the full story here and you'll find a shorter version of the story here. If you take time to read those articles you may come away with questions much as I did. One conclusion is certain, there will be much greater scrutiny on schools in Texas from parents, advocacy groups, and regulatory agencies going forward.
Back to the questions that arise: Should there be limits to the number of students we identify? If we establish the national average as the standard for all states how much deviation from that standard should be allowed? Of greater consequence in the near future is the question of whether the practice of denying services to students with disabilities in Texas will have consequences for those of us who are far away? For instance, if Texas were to raise the cap on special education students allowed from 8.5% to get closer to the national average of approximately 13% (NCES) it could have far reaching effects. The number of special education teachers needed, along with school psychologists, speech pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and many, many other professionals could have a significant impact on the already short supply of professionals in these areas. Could other states face greater scrutiny related to the numbers of students identified with disabilities? Perhaps. Are there any positives in this story? Again, perhaps. It's true that necessity and innovation are intertwined so there may be programs that have been implemented because of the cap (or that make that cap viable), that have produced greater achievement? Bottom line is that it will be interesting to follow this story to see how things go.
July 25, 2016
At its July meeting the Kansas State Board of Education considered several options related to school funding and there was positive news for those of us in special education. The board recommended a large increase in overall funding and a significant increase to special education. You can find the special education funding options considered on page 91 of the .pdf document located here:
The board's recommendation is a giant step forward on the path towards full funding for special education. Too often special education programs and the funding for those programs are overlooked. This was a positive message and is one we want to support and follow as the legislature considers a new funding formula. It takes character and courage to make a recommendation like this in my humble opinion and it is even more heartening to see that there hasn't been any widely reported opinions that are critical.
April 14, 2016
HB 2741 continues to generate interest and discussion in the education community. Much of the dialogue is well thought out and well communicated.
It is safe to say that HB 2742 represents a radically new approach for financing education and will challenge conventional thinking.
I found this article to be very well written, interesting and insightful. Hope you'll take time to read it.
You can find it here:
April 4, 2016
The new school finance bill HB 2741 holds some good news and some bad news.
I like to finish things on a positive note so let's start with the bad news in this bill. Funding for schools is cut by some 373 million dollars. Funding for extra curricular and food service programs must be generated locally as it will be prohibited for schools to use state aid for these programs. Local school districts would face more obstacles if they found it necessary to challenge school finance laws. Cash balances held by local districts would be reduced and districts would have to levy a statewide property tax mill rate of 35 mills compared to the current 20 mills. Capital outlay state aid would be impacted as well.
There is good news in the bill that is worth noting too. Special education funding as established in statute 72-978 remains essentially the same. Funding is to be at 92% of the measured cost of providing special education and related services. This is good news for special education. It is important to note though that the bill gives no indication as to when this level of funding might actually materialize. Also positive is the Efficiency Incentive Program that will reward any school employee who identifies an efficiency that is put into place and saves dollars. The employee would see up to 10% of the money saved and that is a good thing. Another positive would be to put all school employees into the state insurance pool. I agree that this might be bad news for some but speaking for Keystone it looks like good news.
You can read the full text of the bill here:
March 23, 2016
It has been more and more difficult to find any positive news related to the 2016 legislative session and the Kansas economy. A quick Google search using the terms Kansas Legislature or Kansas economy will produce thousands of hits from across Kansas and across the United States. Unfortunately, those hits lead to media content that is predominately negative.
Here's an example of one such article: http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/yael-t-abouhalkah/article66848447.html
The Kansas Legislature and the Governor of Kansas have become frequent fodder for the late night comedy hosts. A quick review of some of the bills being considered hasn't helped me to find anything to be positive about. For a person who builds into their professional practice the simple habit of finding the best in all of the circumstances that surround us that has become more and more challenging. One hit from the search terms above took me to an entertaining video of Seth Myers critiquing Kansas. I won't provide a link, as some of his content is inappropriate for a younger audience, although you can easily find it should you choose.
That challenge was finally overcome when my youngest son came home to share his experience as a page in the Kansas Senate one day earlier this week. He was as motivated and as energized as I have ever seen him. He shared the specifics related to the bills that had been debated that day and I could tell he had learned a great deal. I couldn't help but wonder, "How did he come away from that experience with such positive outlook?" The answer was simple. Our system of governing is a good one. It's a system that encourages diverse opinions and through that process great things can come. Children go into the process without a predetermined agenda. They want only to learn more about each issue in order to make an informed decision. Indeed they revel in the opportunity. Seeing the legislative process through younger eyes gave me a new perspective. Bringing students into the process may be one of the best things our legislators do. We can only hope that they will embrace the opportunity to engage and learn from those precious students.
March 8, 2016
How are things going with HB 2534 the ESI bill? At the time of this blog post the interested parties making up the ESI Task Force have come to agreement in all areas except one. That one area is significant, it's the sunset clause. The sunset clause was originally written so that the law would cease to exist at a specific point in the future – June 30, 2018. The sunset of this statute is a good idea – regulating the ESI effort in Kansas schools is something that is best addressed by the Kansas State Board of Education. Many argue that there have been many attempts by the legislature to usurp control of Kansas schools from the state board. This is a topic for another day however as we want to keep our focus here in ESI. If the sunset provision is not removed the statute will remain in perpetuity.
That one item (the sunset clause and whether it will remain) will likely be decided by the committee chairperson and then HB 2534 will be offered to the committee as a whole (Committee on Children and Seniors) and from there will go to the full house and and then the senate. I'm attaching a copy of the proposed language for HB 2534 with the sunset clause included for those who would like to review. I will keep you posted as the ESI discussion continues…
Feb 15, 2016
By now everyone has likely heard the Kansas Supreme Court opinion that was issued last week on Feb. 11th. In that opinion related to the equity portion of the Gannon school finance case the court found that the current school funding statute fails to meet constitutional muster. The opinion itself is 80 pages in length and can be accessed here:
After reading all 80 pages I was both disappointed and impressed. Disappointed that the adequacy portion of the case is taking so long to resolve and impressed because this opinion is well written, examines every point made by each side in the case and then goes on to cite the appropriate legal reference to substantiate the findings that were made. The court's finding was hardly unexpected. They did not impose a remedy on the legislature, they simply weighed the evidence, balanced it with the appropriate legal standard and arrived at a conclusion.
Undoubtedly, the court will come under fire by many of those far right legislators who proposed the current school funding statute. It will certainly be worth watching to see how the legislature responds in the weeks ahead. Will they resort to name calling and political maneuvering to prolong the issue? Let's hope that objective minds will go to work to address the equity issues in a productive and timely manner.
Keystone Teacher Advisory Committee
February 9, 2016
Did you know that Keystone has a Teacher Advisory Committee? We do! This great team of Keystone educators has been discussing many topics and is currently working to provide recommendations to address our need for training to support reading and math. Like many special education agencies, Keystone faces many challenges when it comes to providing skilled staff members to support special education efforts. Here at Keystone we are blessed with some of the very best, most highly qualified professionals and para-educators in the state. The challenge comes as we look to hire new staff members who are in short supply. Sometimes we're faced with hiring professionals who don't have a background in special education and may not have an extensive background related to reading strategies and instructional practices. We have to provide them with a foundation to ensure that they can address the needs of our special needs students. The staff members who we employ as para-educators come to us from a wide variety of backgrounds as well. We want to ensure that they have had a chance to develop an understanding of the components of reading and have been exposed to direct instruction strategies that are effective so that they can better support the reading instruction in all classrooms.
We hope to start by providing training for new staff members, both teachers and paras, during the summer to address this need. We would follow up with training in the fall and again in the spring to connect with new staff members who have been recently hired. Once we have training for reading in place, we'll turn our attention to math. Stay tuned for more updates as plans are finalized and implemented.
On April 1, The Kansas Children's Cabinet board adopted Kansas State Department of Education's report received by the Cabinet on April 1, to be sent to the Governor and to Division of the Budget.
The Cabinet further recommended removing Proviso language for Mean Testing. However, if the proviso is not removed, the Parents as Teachers will target families who are low income.
This Friday, April 24, The Kansas Children's Cabinet will be making further recommendations to fund Parents as Teachers with Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF). Options being explored by the Cabinet include:
• Serving families who fall at or below 200% of the federal poverty level guidelines
• Serving families who fall at or below 300% of the federal poverty level guidelines
• Serving families who have a variety of risk factors
• Serving all families while encouraging 2 parent households
Download a document that outlines the options above.
We are hopeful to have The Kansas Children's Cabinet final recommendations sometime next week. However, we will not have final information on PAT funding for 2016-17 until the legislature convenes.
We will receive the PAT Continuation Grant for 2016-17 Application mid May. Our turnaround time for submission will be 2 short weeks.
Although, the redesign of PAT is still uncertain, we feel it is important to continue to move forward with planning for next year program year. Districts also need to make budget decisions. PAT Staff need to make decisions on their work hours. And, most importantly, Keystone PAT Families need to feel confident that services will continue.
Keystone PAT is working on operational plans now that would work under these options. Doing the ground work now will provide data as to how deep of an impact the changes may have.
The Children's Cabinet could recommend PAT remain universal while funded with TANF by including the goal of establishing or maintaining a 2-parent households. This goals is currently part of the PAT program. We discuss the importance of having a father figure role in the life of a child, we provide family counseling resources and referrals as part of family well being, we plan visits and group connection to include fathers, and much more.
Why is universal access important:
• Universal access for parents helps local program addresses other at risk factors than low income. Our Kansas families have many issues: child abuse, teen parents, parent or child with special needs, etc.
• Universal access allows all families to join together at group connections reflecting the demographics of our communities.
• Universal access allows for screening of all children. PAT is a primary referral source for Infant Toddler Special Services.
• Each district has its own unique demographics the flexibility to serve all families ensures that the needs of each community is being met.
Keystone PAT is committed to serving families with young children in Northeast Kansas. We will continue to do so with The Kansas Children's Cabinet recommendations and The Kansas State Legislature decisions regarding funding.
February 15, 2016
1990 Kansas Parent Education Statute K.S.A. 72-3603 et.seq.:
Passage authorized school districts and consortiums to operate a parent education program administered by the State Board of Education. Download complete document.
February 12, 2016
Cammie Braden, Keystone Parents as Teachers Program Coordinator presents information and parent testimonials on the importance of sustained funding for Kansas Parents as Teacher programs. Download here.
February 4, 2016
In the January Keystone Special Edition I took time to elaborate on the inconsistencies in the new school funding statute. The curious part of me will take me to weird places sometimes. Places that many people find to be boring but somehow I'm drawn to. Staying informed related to all things that make up special education is a particular passion and my curiosity serves me well. I mention this because I noticed another inconsistency in another bill currently before the legislature. HB 2534 is a bill relating to the restraint and seclusion of students commonly known as ESI. The bill amends K.S.A. 72-89d02 through 72-89d08 with many changes recommended by the task force that the original bill created. Some of the changes introduced don't match up with the task force recommendations or the intent of the original bill however.
Section 6 of HB 2534 contains the sunset clause. The law and all of its components was set to expire or sunset on June 30, 2018. The new bill to amend reads so that only the task force effort outlined in the original text will actually sunset. This is appropriate as the task force has done its work and made its recommendations. What is unexplained is why all of the other sections of the statute weren't allowed to sunset as intended and recommended?
The argument that we need the statute was debunked when the data was made clear. During the period that regulations were in effect only one family chose to take exception to the actions of their local school and engage the local board of education. The case was later resolved amicably without board action.