GENESEE COUNTY, MI — State Superintendent Michael Rice has ruled the formula used to funnel some special education dollars through the Genesee Intermediate School District to local districts does not meet legal requirements.
In a Nov. 24 ruling, Rice ordered that the current formula be immediately replaced with one that is more equitable.
Under the previous formula, the GISD Mandatory Plan appropriates $3.8 million of Act 18 special education funds back to local districts based on a three-part formula:
-Total special education headcount
-Full-time-equivalent (FTE) special education student head count
-Total FTE headcount
FTE head count is adjusted for part-time student numbers. These three factors are currently equally weighted.
The formula did not accommodate Flint Community Schools’ declining enrollment and unique circumstances created by the water crisis, Rice ruled.
Flint schools had a total student count of 7,207 in 2013, the year the formula was last modified.
This year, enrollment is around 3,200, a lost nearly 4,000 students over a seven-year span.
The Flint district is now the sixth largest school district in the county, behind Grand Blanc, Davison, Flushing, Carman-Ainsworth, and Fenton.
Approximately 22% of Flint’s students have special needs and require an individualized education program, almost twice the statewide average.
Under the existing formula, Flint Community Schools received $253,456 in special education funding from GISD Act 18 funds during the 2019-20 school year.
Rice outlined a new formula in his ruling that removes total FTE headcount.
Under the new proposed formula, the district would have received $549,409 in the same school same year.
Other school districts in Genesee County that would receive increased funding under the new proposed formula include Carman Ainsworth, Linden, Mt. Morris, Kearsley, Genesee School District, Flushing and Bendle.
The change also means less money for 25 of the 36 districts or public school academies with a high total student count but lower percentage of special education students.
The ruling by Rice indicates progress for students receiving special education funding at Flint Community Schools and throughout Genesee County, per a Flint Community Schools news release.
“This isn’t just a step forward for Flint Community Schools—it’s a step forward for all students in Genesee County who rely on the critical special education services schools provide,” Flint Community Schools Board of Education President Casey Lester said in a statement. “I am pleased that we are advancing toward a commonsense solution that puts the needs of children first.”
The formula proposed by Rice differs both from the current formula and the formula recommended by Flint Community Schools in their formal objection, GISD Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal.
This decision impacts every local school district and public school academy in Genesee County, Tunnicliff said.
Rice also noted in his ruling that the GISD may, in collaboration with local districts, public school academy leaders, and the parent advisory committee, submit an alternative formula that would address the deficiencies determined to exist with the current plan for his consideration and approval, Tunnicliff said.
If that move does not take place, the plan outlined in Rice’s ruling takes immediate effect.
“The GISD will discuss the impact of the decision, and any potential next steps, with the 21 local school district superintendents, 14 public school academy leaders, and the parent advisory committee, in the near future,” Tunnicliff said. “Any decisions on developing an alternative formula to recommend to State Superintendent Rice, that differs from the formula set forth in his decision, would be a shared decision among each of these constituents.”
The funding issue was first brought before the Flint Community Schools Board of Education in May 2019 by the Williams Firm, the Flint Community Schools Board of Education’s general counsel.
Also in May, the board approved the GISD’s proposed 2019-2020 budget with the exception of the proposed special education fund budget.
Flint schools brought concerns to the Rice in January and was directed to file a formal objection with the GISD.
State-appointed Administrative Law Judge Michael J. St. John issued a proposal in October recommending that Rice grant the objection of Flint Community Schools.
Many parents and guardians are going to be relieved that their children with special needs will have the resources they need to succeed, said Flint schools board member Vera Perry.
“I’m grateful for the hard work of the Williams Firm and Flint Community Schools administration, who identified the issue and has stayed on top of it in order to support our students,” she said.
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