GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- As Tony Evers is set to take the governor’s seat in January, state education officials are hoping it will be good news for school districts across the state when it comes to more education funding – specifically special education.
Earlier this year, as state superintendent, Evers asked the state to increase special education funding by $600 million for the 2019-2021 budget. Currently the funding is at $369 million.
School districts are required by law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to provide education to special needs students regardless of the state and federal funds available. IDEA ensures special education and related services to children with disabilities.
For the Green Bay Area Public School District, that meant increasing their special education funding by $3 million for this school year.
At the end of October, the board passed the $274 million budget.
Of that, spending for special education is at $49.3 million, up $3.6 million, from last year’s investment of $45.6 million.
The district says 67 percent is coming from them because school districts are not getting as much from the state and federal government.
“Districts can’t really do anything about the formula funds they receive," said Rachel Zellmer, a federal fiscal monitoring consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Education. "If they see an increase in the total student population, they’re going to see their grant increasing and for some of our school districts that are slowly seeing they’re total enrollment decline, their IDEA special education grants are going down."
IDEA funding is given to districts based on total student population, not the number of students who require special education.
Of the more than 21,000 students in the district, the GBAPSD provides services to 3,367 special education students.
In creating IDEA, the federal government also promised to reimburse districts at a rate of 40 percent, but that has never happened, leaving districts to make up the difference.
“In the case of Green Bay, they spend about $40 million of local funds on special education and get a $4 million federal grant. The amount of IDEA funding that they get for special education is pretty minuscule,” said Zellmer.
Claudia Henrickson, executive director of special education and pupil services at GBAPSD, says much of the districts increase in funding is due to an increase in salaries and adding staff.
“We added an additional number of psyches. We added three or four of them that we haven’t had in the past, so that we’re fully staffed and probably at the rate that the psych association says we should be at,” said Henrickson.
Psychologists are highly trained and can work with students on a number of issues from behavioral, emotional or psychological.
“We can go into classrooms and provide services in small groups, we can do individual therapy sessions, and do it more readily than we were able to do in the past,” said Henrickson.
The district also added more paraprofessionals.
In one particular classroom at Red Smith Elementary School, the teacher, Mrs. Utter, has two “paras” helping her teach students with autism.
“I wouldn’t be able to do my job nearly as well without the paraprofessionals,” said Rhiannon Utter.
“They will run a lesson after it's been introduced by me. They're responsible for collecting data related to that particular student, that particular skill. They report to me on how it's going,” said Utter.
That data she’s referring to is the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student. Those plans are reviewed by the state and help determine the resources a student needs.
“We’re seeing a lot of need around closing gaps and how we can really target interventions and help students to be more successful in the classroom,” said Henrickson.
More focus has been put on “results, driven, accountability” to ensure students are getting the best education possible to help them succeed not only inside the classroom, but also outside the classroom.