High-needs students’ services face drastic cuts

School jurisdictions in Central Alberta are warning of drastically reduced services for high-needs students if they do not soon receive more provincial funding.

School jurisdictions in Central Alberta are warning of drastically reduced services for high-needs students if they do not soon receive more provincial funding.

Through a collaboration between the provincial education, health and human services departments, school divisions across the province are grouped together to provide services for students with complex needs.

In the central region, nine school divisions work together to provide services like speech pathology, physical therapy, and supports for students with visual and audial problems.

The province has changed its funding formula for providing such services, a shift that those in the central region estimate results in them losing approximately $1.1 million in provincial funding.

Whereas funding has been distributed based on five-year average head counts of high needs students up until now, the new formula incorporates a series of 10 modifiers to calculate allocations.

As Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division board chair Guy Pelletier puts it, the formula change reflects a shift away from providing for “actual need” to funding “theoretical need.” It is the same funding formula that the government implemented to fund its inclusive education programming two years ago.

Under the new formula, things like the number of aboriginal students, refugees, and babies born with a low birth weight being schooled in the region are used to determine funding dollars. The central region scores particularly low on those three modifiers, and, to a lesser degree, on: the percentage of families who own their own dwelling; mothers’ average years of education; and the number of children in care.

Alberta Education director of school finance Daimen Tan said the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery (RCSD) model was established to streamline what had previously been covered by three programs. The funding modifiers, he said, have been shown to be reflective of indicators that students would need additional supports.

Approximately 900 students will access supports through the initiative next school year. Without any funding on top of the $4.6 million the central region has already been allocated, administrators say they will be unable to maintain the 40 full-time equivalent staff that are providing services this year. Regional manager Terry Williamson said the region projects it will need $5.8 million to provide adequate supports in 2014/15.

Across the region, there is significant confusion as to how exactly the new formula works and what the effects will be. At least some of the affected school boards have written to MLAs, asking for a remedy to what they deem a “tragic situation.”

“We’re actively revisiting our planning and at the same time making inquiries as to why the shortfall occurred and what other opportunities we have to generate the revenue that we need,” said Williamson.

After the inclusive education formula was changed in advance of the 2012/13 school year, central region divisions lobbied the government and were granted a transition allowance that will continue until at least next year. Tan said the central region is not the only one facing a decrease in funding, but there is a chance that some monies could be reallocated if some of the regions that have been granted more funding do not have the capability or capacity to provide additional services.

The $59-million budget for the province’s 17 RCSDs has been used up, said Tan, but there is an additional $2 million available that could be floated out to regions. He said regions will have their chance to make a case for needing greater funding that could also come from other departmental budgets.

“What we need to look at . . . it’s not merely the funding aspect, but it’s ‘What have you changed in service delivery?’ because there was an expectation that what we were after is a more integrated approach to service delivery, not three separate programs again. Because then why would we change the funding model?” said Tan.

He said he expects the situation will be resolved by the end of this month.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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