Public Policy Update: Education Funding and Legislation

This legislative session, the Autism Society of North Carolina’s focus on education continued to highlight improving education for children with disabilities in public schools while also offering options to parents who need to find different academic settings.

EDUCATION FUNDING

Overall, the two-year budget makes cuts to education, including public education, community colleges and the university system: $260 million in the first year and $220 million in the second year, including recurring and nonrecurring cuts. Cuts of $112 million and $62 million in years one and two to public education included salaries, teachers, aides, supplies, school bus replacement, and supplemental funds. $345 million in funds were restored to eliminate the “LEA adjustment,” a local education cut from previous years. The budget does provide $3,743.48 per special needs child, in addition to standard per student funding, for fiscal year 2013-2014 and fiscal year 2014-2015.

The budget added about $3.5 million for scholarships for children with disabilities, a move that was required to replace the similar tax credit that was repealed. A new “opportunity scholarship,” for general students who transfer from public to private or home schools, was funded with $10 million.

The budget does have a special provision that restricts the ability of Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to adjust or move funding for children with special needs if that funding was required by federal law. The state budget language included a lot of flexibility for LEA funding, and it was critical to ensure that all funding specifically mandated by the federal government for children with special needs was not affected by that.

We continue to have concerns about provisions that would allow the cap on class size to be removed. Larger classes can cause difficulties for individuals on the autism spectrum: a lack of attention to their unique needs, behavioral challenges, and larger numbers of students all may exert pressure on schools to move students out of mainstream settings into segregated ones. The final budget does lift the cap on class sizes and provides LEAs with more flexibility on how they spend their funding. During the final days of the session, a provision was placed in the budget technical corrections bill that limited the number of additional children in K-3 to only three over the allotment ratio of teacher to student. (Section 3.3.(a) page 3-House Bill 112).

Another item that remains of great concern to our families is the cut to funding for teaching assistants in the final budget: 21% in each of the next two fiscal years. The budget also allocated funding based on student headcount in grades K-3. According to General Assembly fiscal research for fiscal year 2013-2014, $450.8 million will remain in this allotment. In fiscal year 2014-15, $447.4 million will remain in this allotment.

Budget special provisions and legislation end the practice of increasing teacher pay for master’s level teachers and ends teacher tenure by 2018. Some high-performing teachers can be offered a yearly bonus and four-year contracts, but new teachers and other will be offered one- to three-year contracts.

EDUCATION POLICY

Here is a review of legislation that has passed or will be studied during the interim session of 2013 and could affect students on the autism spectrum.

H269 Children with Disabilities Scholarship Funding:

This legislation replaces the existing tax credit for children with disabilities that was repealed with the passage of tax legislation. The bill permits parents or guardians of children with disabilities to apply for a scholarship up to $3,000 per semester toward enrollment in private schools. The budget allocated $3,670,500 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year and $4,341,000 for the 2014-2015 fiscal year in recurring funds. The current funding will limit the number of scholarships that are available, but unlike the tax credit, they will not be based on income and tax liability.

We did not specifically advocate for other scholarship funds, but the legislature authorized a new “Opportunity Scholarship” in the budget bill that will offer similar scholarships to nondisabled students to move to private or homeschools. Students who do not meet the criteria for the disability scholarship or who cannot access the limited scholarships can apply for one of these.

H587 Alternate ACT/PLAN for Certain Students (S.L. 2013-208)

The bill ending the requirement for ACT tests for students in occupational course of study was modified to require the State Board of Education to offer an alternate test to the ACT or an alternate to the PLAN precursor test to the ACT to certain students, generally those with severe and pervasive developmental or cognitive delays. This bill does require that the parents request this alternate assessment in writing. The legislation also requires the State Board of Education to include, in its accountability reports, information on students with disabilities who take these alternative testing options.

H731 Study Vocational Training Persons with I/DD

This bill calls on the legislature to study vocational opportunities in high school, community college and universities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It also directs the study to include model programs that emphasize real job outcomes. This study bill was not included in the Omnibus Education Study Bill because of some technical difficulties and a regular Omnibus Study Bill was not passed this year, but ASNC has been assured by the Education Oversight Committee and the governor’s office that they will undertake a study of the issue.

If you have questions about public policy issues, please contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at 919-865-5068 or jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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