Funding Support for Kids with Disabilities: Understanding The New Plan
Manitoba schools are in the process of changing from one special needs funding model to another, and many parents are asking questions. Every change is an answer to a problem. The following is an explanation of what is happening, why it was thought necessary, and what parents should expect from their child’s school. Many thanks to Karen Fraser, who wrote this for us. She is a vice principal in the Hanover School Division and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba working on a Masters degree in Inclusive Education.
Why was this change made?
The change from categorical funding to formula funding was the result of the work of a Task Force that was established by the Department of Education, created because of concerns expressed by educators and parents in regards to the funding application process. “As our inclusive culture, beliefs, and attitudes have evolved, school-based systems, structures, and practices have changed to match them. It has become increasingly apparent that our provincial funding structure, specifically our ‘special needs funding’, is outdated.”
The purpose of the Task Force was to examine funding for students living with special needs and to explore potential changes, improvements, or alternate funding models (Task Force on Special Needs Funding: Report for the Minister of Education and Advanced Learning, 2015).
The Task Force was comprised of educators including superintendents, student services administrators, department representatives, a representative from the Manitoba Teachers Society (MTS) as well as a representative from the Manitoba Association of Parents Councils (MAPC).
After several months of research and collaboration The Task Force made the recommendation to the Minister to change the funding model for students living with special needs that had been in place for over 32 years. The funding model that the Task Force recommended was the formula based model. (Task Force on Special Needs Funding: Report for the Minister of Education and Advanced Learning, 2015).
How is the money distributed now?
When the Minister of Education accepted the recommendation from The Task Force to change from categorical funding (with a funding application) to formula funding there was an understanding that a formula would be developed that would ensure that all divisions (large and small, rural and urban) would have access to at minimum the same amount of funding that they had been receiving to use for the education of students who live with additional learning support needs.
There was a change in government around this time. The new government has not created a formula. Instead they have given the same amount of money to divisions for the 2017-2018 school year that they had been given in 2016-2017.
School divisions are all distributing the money to schools differently. Many school divisions are using such tools as class profiles and school profiles to distribute funding to their schools. The funding model is a needs-based model which means that schools will plan for students as necessary and supports will be distributed accordingly.
What are the possible drawbacks to not having funding tied to each child?
Change is hard. Parents and teachers in Manitoba are used to funding being attached to students who live with additional learning support needs. Historically in Manitoba this has meant that students who receive level two or level three funding have an educational assistant attached to them. While this was never the mandate of the department this happened across the province in most school divisions.
As divisions make the move to formula funding it will be important that parents and schools work together. Parents should continue to advocate for their children.
What are the benefits?
There are many benefits to formula funding. In the past, school staff have spent a lot of time completing assessments for funding applications and writing funding applications. School staff will no longer have to write funding applications which will free them up to work with classroom teachers to support all of the diverse students in their classrooms.
The funding application process was deficit-based. It forced schools and even parents to look at children through a very negative lens that promoted labelling and in many cases stigmatized children. Formula funding is based on a strength-based approach that uses a child’s strengths to support their learning in inclusive classrooms. This approach is much healthier for a child’s well being and self esteem and does not carry the emotional cost for parents of reading about their children in the most negative terms possible.
Formula funding will allow school divisions to use the funding in ways that are best for students. This may mean that schools will employ more professional staff including clinicians and learning support teachers. Research has shown that students with the greatest learning needs make much more progress when they have trained professionals working with them.
Formula funding has the potential to improve independence amongst all students including those with additional learning support needs. Their needs will be met, but they will no longer have the stigma that was level two or level three funding attached to them.
My child had an EA before and now doesn’t. How are schools kept accountable to my child’s needs?
The most influential person in any given classroom is the classroom teacher. All children including students with additional learning support needs deserve to be educated by a qualified, highly trained classroom teacher. It is every student’s human right.
Educational assistants by definition are intended to be a support to classroom teachers. They were never meant to be attached to individual children. In Manitoba, the old application based system perpetuated this practice and unfortunately, many students received much of their education from educational assistants who often had very little training. This is not a criticism of the EAs themselves. This is a criticism of a system that never used EAs as they were intended to be used -as a support to classroom teachers.
Schools are responsible for the learning needs of all students. Students with additional learning support needs must still have their individualized learning needs met. If the students require an IEP they should still have one and parents must be a collaborative member of the IEP team. If students require clinical services they should continue to receive these services. Formula funding should improve inclusive education for all students including students who have previously received level two or three funding.
What should my child’s day look like in an inclusive classroom?
Your child should be included in all academic and social aspects of school. Teachers should be working with learning support teachers to universally design the learning in the classroom. All students must have access to the curriculum. Learning should take place in the classroom, not in an alternative setting (except for short periods of time when your child may need a break or a quieter setting, as defined in their IEP). Teachers should be supported by a learning support teacher to ensure that all of the students have their learning needs met. If there are less educational assistants than in previous years, there should be more professionals like clinicians and learning support teachers working with students in classrooms.
Your child should feel safe and supported in the classroom and in the school. He/she should feel proud of of him/herself for all of his/her strengths and gifts and he/she should feel like a valued and contributing member of the school community.