DOE changes special education funding structure

HSTA has several key concerns about the changes and has communicated them to the DOE

Last fall the Department of Education (DOE) announced changes to the way certain special education-related funds are distributed. In particular, the DOE plans to change the current distribution of funds in program ID 17131. The types of positions currently funded by program ID 17131 include special education classroom teachers, Article VI teachers, and special education educational assistants. The proposed changes will start next school year (2020-2021), affecting both DOE and public charter schools. The HIDOE may still make changes to the proposal, which is why the HSTA is raising questions and concerns. The proposed changes, called Special Education Per Pupil Allocation (SPPA), will provide money to a school (instead of positions), similar to weighted student formula (WSF). Instead of filling positions, schools will plan for and purchase the various types of positions needed to support students with special needs.

The changes are in part a result of the recommendations that came from a Special Education Taskforce established in the school year 2017-2018 by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. The task force was composed of representatives including principals, teachers, parents, HSTA, HGEA, Hope Street Group, University of Hawaii, and Special Education Advisory Council, plus various DOE offices acting as consultants. The HSTA participated in all the task force meetings and supported the recommendations of the task force issued in May 2018.

In addition, last school year, the HSTA participated in a workgroup called the SPED Fiscal Workgroup that issued recommendations on funding allocations. Subsequent to this workgroup’s recommendations, the complex area superintendents and principals met to discuss possible changes and put together the final proposed SPPA. 

As required by law, the DOE and HSTA have been engaged in back-and-forth consultation on the proposed changes. The HSTA has reviewed the proposed changes and has asked a number of questions, requested information and given feedback on our concerns with the proposed changes.

While HSTA supports the DOE’s efforts to implement the SPED Taskforce recommendations, especially to ensure the distribution of funds is more transparent and equitable to all schools, we have the following concerns with the department's current proposal:

  • The base amount of funding for supporting services for students with disabilities (SWD) is inadequate.
  • While the department proposes some weighting based on select student characteristics, the new formula is still not based on, nor is it a reflection of, student’s individual educational program (IEP) minutes. 
  • We believe the department should look at other areas for student characteristic weights, such as developmentally delayed.
  • The intent of the new formula seems to be to push for inclusion environments; any placement should be based on students’ needs as determined by their IEP.
  • There seems to be little to no guidance to administrators regarding how they plan for the proposed change, including guidance on proper staff-to-student ratios, care coordinator caseloads and the possible impact of staff reductions.

The proposed changes are complex and wide-reaching. The HSTA has requested copies of each school’s staffing plans and special education student numbers for the 2020-2021 school year and will be comparing the numbers to this school year.   

We are aware that some principals are having conversations with their staff as the changes may result in changes in staffing levels at a given school. Principals are also asking their complex area superintendents (CAS) for additional funds from the planned “risk pool reserve” that each CAS will control.   

Teachers should be aware that tentative line assignments are due for all tenured teachers no later than two weeks prior to the first posting. Because the first posting is February 20, this means that all tenured teachers should know their tentative line assignments no later than Feb. 6. This also means that any staff-reduced tenured teacher should be notified by that time as well. 

The staff reduction process is complex. If teachers have questions regarding staff reduction, they can contact their respective UniServ Directors. The current staff reduction procedures for teachers can be found here.

As the Department of Education moves forward with SPPA, HSTA will continue to engage in consultation with the DOE on this matter. We encourage teachers with concerns about the impact of the SPPA changes to their school, please contact and consult with their HSTA UniServ Directors.

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Author: Keoki Kerr