Re-1 valley special education population growing – journal advocate
RE-1 Valley School District’s special education student population is continuing to grow. Laurie Kjosness, director of student services for the district, gave a report on the district’s special education program and its enrollment during a Board of Education meeting Monday. About 15 percent of RE-1s students in special education, about 80 percent of those spend 80 percent or more time in general education classrooms. The process for determine if a student is eligible for special education services starts with a request for an evaluation; notice of rights are given to parents and they must sign
off on an evaluation; the evaluation is completed; a team gets together to determine eligibility of student based on variety of criteria; from that evaluation an Individual Education Plan is created; after the IEP is implemented there is ongoing assessment and data collection to ensure the district is on the right path for the student; and the data is examined periodically and recommendations are made. Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEA) eligibility categories include: Intellectual disability, serious emotional disability, specific learning disability, hearing impairment including deafness, visual impairment including blindness, speech/language impairment, deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities, developmental delay, infant/toddler with a disability, autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury, orthopedic impairment and other health impairment. There is also a physical disability category that is being phased out at the end of this year, as Colorado becomes more inline with federal disabilities. Kjosness estimated there are about 10 to 15 students every year that taper off special education services, but there are 20 to 25 that come on. “We’re very happy when that happens, because we feel like we’ve been successful,” she said. “Once you have a disability or you’ve been eligible for disability that doesn’t go away, but we help them figure out what other pathways they can use or get to in order to cope with things in life.” Over time RE-1’s special education population has increased.
The December 2008 count showed the district had 357 in-district special education students, 360 in 2009, 317 in 2010, 353 in 2011, 342 in 2012, 366 in 2013, 360 in 2014 and as of the beginning of this month there are 381 special education students this year. As for the out-of-district students there were none in 2008, one from 2009-2012, zero in 2013 and 2014, and one in 2015. Of the different IDEA eligibility categories RE-1 has the most students in the specific learning disability category, 168 students in 2014-15, and 112 in the speech/language impairment category. That year there were 474 referrals to the program, 360 were eligible and 114 were not eligible.
Kjosness talked about the number of students in facility schools, which are schools in other districts that RE-1, department of human services, or probation have placed students in. Over time the number has gone down, from 18 in 2008-2009 to seven in 2015-16. The count was higher when Kids Ark shut down and RE-1 was responsible for the youth that were getting services there. She briefly touched on performance data for students with disabilities, noting that “as far as us compared to the state we’re doing fairly well,” but the district still has a lot of work to do as far as helping these students get to general education peers are at. Kjosness mentioned dropout rates as well. RE-1’s dropout rate for all students in 2014 was 2.1 compared to the sate average of 2.4, slightly higher than in 2013 when it was 1.2 in RE-1 and 2.6 statewide. She noted the district lost a lot of students to GOAL Academy last year, they came back to RE-1 but eventually dropped out of school altogether. She is hopeful that RE-1 new EDGE online blended learning program will improve the numbers this year. Additionally, she spoke about funding for special education. Less than 10 percent comes from the federal government, 20 percent comes from state funds and 70 percent comes from the district’s general fund and per pupil operating revenue.
Kjosness talked about dealing with sequestration of federal of funds. For two years, the district was able to get American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, “which helped immensely, but we had to spend them in a specific way.” In 2005, $12.4 billion funds were authorized for the nation, what was actually appropriated was $10.6 billion, of the total federal budget that was 18.5 percent that was given to federal programs, including special education. In 2009, 25 percent was allocated, thanks to ARRA funds, but in 2014 no authorization was done due to sequestration, $11.4 billion was appropriated, 15.2 percent of the federal budget was given to federal programs. Deb County, district financial officer, pointed out that since federal IDEA funds have been reduced, previously the program was able to have enough funds for 18 months, but last school year the program’s funds were diminished by April, after that anything allocated for IDEA had to come out of the general fund. “When you take a look historically, we were at one time well over $700,000 for IDEA funds and now we’re down to $188,000,” she said. The reduction in funding is particularly troubling when you consider that at the same time the special education student count in the district has been rising.
Kjosness noted in 2011, the state share was $9.6 million, in 2015 it went down to $9.4 million that means the local share has to go up to provide for these students, from $4.9 million in 2011 to $5.2 million in 2015. RE-1 has roughly over $1 million this year to spend on 360 special education students, but with a staff of about 45 people a lot of those funds are used for para educators and teachers. In 2008-09 18 students were facility schools, RE-1 spent $147,397 on students in facility schools, that averaged out to almost $8,200 per student, with the per pupil operating revenue for students and the summer count, the district likely broke even. Last year they had six students in facilities, a cost of $47,879, the PPOR was about $7,980, so they broke even again. “It’s not really costing the district much to send these kids off to where they need to be to get the skills they need in order to bring them back, so that they’re part of our community,” Kjosness said. Callie Jones: (970) 526-986, cjones@journal-advocate. com Pancake breakfast to support Christmas miraclesThe Blacktop Jacks, a local motorcycle enthusiasts club, is holding a pancake breakfast today, Dec. Full Story