|The Department of Education’s proposal to move services for 3-5-year-olds from a state agency and into the public schools needs additional time for planning and piloting and should not be rushed.
That was the general consensus of a 15-member advisory committee, whose own work was cut short by DOE Commissioner Robert Hasson, who wrote a letter cancelling scheduled meetings and asking for a final report following the group’s last meeting on Monday.
The committee included people who work in Child Development Services (CDS) – the agency that currently provides services for children in the 3-5-year-old span; two school superintendents and two special education directors; contracted service providers and agencies; advocates; and, members of the DOE staff.
Key among the committee’s general recommendations was the move to shift CDS-like services into public schools would not be a “flip of the switch”. Instead districts and CDS should “collaborate” with public schools to serve children during the transition. Pilots also need to be done in both urban and rural areas to uncover and address issues. And, there should be no shift of services to public schools until 2019-2020, at the earliest.
The DOE announced in mid-September that it wanted to shift CDS-like services into public schools and is introducing legislation to make that happen. The bill, An Act To Reorganize the Provision of Services for Infants and Toddlers and Children with Disabilities from Birth to 5 Years of Age, will be heard in the Health and Human Services Committee.
In his letter to the CDS Advisory Committee, Commissioner Hasson asked the group to finalize discussions in four key areas: funding; facilities; staffing; and, regionalization opportunities.
Hasson asked the group to address “the inadequacy of funds, regardless of whether the proposed change is enacted or CDS remains the provider”.
CDS for some years has run a deficit, but that deficit had been plugged by the DOE with surplus funds. In 2016 that deficit was just over $2 million on total spending of $39 million for services not only for 3-5-year-olds, but also birth to 2. Click here to see the latest CDS annual report.
The concern school districts have is if they take on the 3-5 population will they be adequately funded from the state.
CDS Director Roy Fowler, who served as chair of the advisory group, said the two largest cost drivers in the agency are transportation and specially designed instruction.
Recommendations from the advisory group include:
- Do not run state funding for 3-5-year-old services through the school funding formula, which creates a local share and gives property-rich communities less state aid.
- Help districts bill for Medicaid reimbursement and determine who will fund the seed required for Medicaid reimbursement. Right now that seed for CDS is paid by the Department of Health and Human Services.
- Explore the option of 100 percent reimbursement from the state for money spent by districts on CDS-like services.
- Look at transportation issues separately and explore options, including partnering with school districts even if CDS services stay put.
- Define space needs and determine whether contract service providers with their own space will remain part of the mix.
- Determine what the law and state and local codes require for early childhood spaces.
- Determine what is feasible in school districts, both in terms of costs and available space to expand.
- There is not enough certified staff regardless of who is running the program for 3-5-year-olds and it needs to be addressed, particularly in areas like speech and occupational therapy.
- Salaries are an issue.
- Determine what certifications are needed and, as important, what experience is required.
- Needs to be explored because smaller districts simply don’t have the critical mass of children to do a program on their own.
The advisory committee also identified areas where more data is needed and that data should be provided to legislators, who ultimately must make the decision on moving CDS to school districts.
Those data requests include:
- What is the estimated number of 3-5-year-olds who need but are not now getting services from CDS?
- If CDS or CDS-like services were fully funded, what would it cost?
- Who will pay for the Medicaid seed money if services move to public schools?
- What formula would the state use to fund CDS-like services in schools? Is there a formula now for how CDS is funded?
- Should transportation be dealt with as a separate issue since it is a substantial costs driver and impediment to providing services, particularly in rural areas?