Pandemic School Budgeting

Much has been written about the vast sums that public schools have spent and will need to spend on technology to make distance learning universally available. Sadly, the federal government has not allocated funding to solve this problem, wherein millions of children do not have internet access.

As James P. Steyer, CEO of Common Sense, a nonprofit education advocacy group said,

I cannot understand how the U.S. Senate can approve a $2 trillion emergency package and not find even $1 billion to ensure that every school child in America can connect to the internet on a functioning device. Up to 12 million lower-income and many rural-based kids do not have adequate access to broadband or modern devices, impacting student outcomes and exacerbating economic inequality. Now that most American schoolkids must learn from home because of COVID-19, it is an even bigger problem.

While making on-line learning available for all students is critical while school buildings are closed, anyone who is paying attention understands that even with internet access, many students will not learn very well via the internet. Some may not learn at all. Whether it is due to their young age, inability to focus without direct human interaction, or a disability that makes on-line learning challenging or even impossible, we know that at some point, children will have to return to school to engage in effective instruction.

As school districts plan for the possible return of students in the fall, many are contemplating and some are purchasing new furniture that will provide some barriers to hopefully reduce the chance of coronavirus transmission. One of my clients is converting her office furniture manufacturing business into a school furniture manufacturing business specifically targeting furniture that will shield students, teachers and other staff.

However, I have yet to read about a single school district, let alone, the federal or state government, that is budgeting for how to compensate students for the loss of education during school closures. This is particularly critical for students who receive special education, as they have a right to compensatory education if they do not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Since schools have closed, I do not know of a single student with disabilities who has had their Individualized Education Program (IEP) implemented faithfully as written. Instead, many school district are simply telling parents what small portions of their children’s IEPs will be implemented, a clear violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires that changes to IEPs must be made by the full IEP team, unless the school district and parent agree to modifications.

I previously put together a presentation on the IDEA during COVID-19, which includes links to federal guidance. You can also watch the Zoom webinar I put on to explain this very confusing situation.

Readers should understand, that there has not been a waiver or any type of modification to special education law due to the pandemic. Students with disabilities rights to receive a FAPE remain in place. The problem, of course, is that while schools are closed, as a practical matter, it is hard to enforce those rights. One of my due process hearings has been put on hold for over a month and has not been rescheduled as of yet, due to the pandemic. Parents are confused because school districts are simply telling them what their children will receive, without letting them know that additional services will be offered once schools reopen. To her credit, a colleague of mine who represents school districts candidly admitted to me that school districts will be liable for a massive amount of compensatory education once schools reopen.

Yet, how can parents document their children’s need for compensatory education once schools reopen? Fortunately, the Southern Poverty Law Center has put together a convenient tracking form (click to access) that parents can use to track:

  • date
  • type of service/learning (e.g., speech therapy, reading instruction, etc…)
  • time spent
  • description of learning/service (include comparison to amount of time the student’s IEP designates they should receive each service to the amount of time the student did receive each service); and
  • student’s progress and experience (e.g., accomplished goal, did not pay attention, ineffective, etc…).

This documentation will prove to be invaluable once schools reopen and parents let their children’s IEP teams know about the gaps in their children’s education, and how the school district needs to compensate their children to close those gaps. However, since local school budgets are tight, and the state and federal governments are not stepping up to provide the funding that schools need to provide children with the compensatory education they will need, parents will need to push hard as only the squeaky wheels will get the grease, and for many, without an advocate or an attorney, their children will not get the compensatory education they need.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

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