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Genesee County ISD special education funding formula violates state law, judge says

FLINT, MI — The formula used to funnel some special education dollars through the Genesee Intermediate School Distrct to local districts violates state law, an administrative law judge has said.

For Flint schools, this could mean the district will get more special education funding because it has a higher than average percentage of special education students. It also could mean less money for school districts with a high total student count but lower percentage of special education students, like Grand Blanc Community Schools.

As it currently stands, the GISD Mandatory Plan appropriates $3.8 million of Act 18 special education funds back to local districts based on a three-part formula: 1. Total special education headcount 2. Full-time-equivalent (FTE) special education student head count 3. Total FTE headcount. FTE head count is adjusted for part-time student numbers. These three factors are currently equally weighted.

However, Administrative Law Judge Michael St. John in a Friday, Oct 9 recommendation to State Superintendent Michael Rice, said this formula should change.

Residents challenge officials to change special education funding to benefit Flint schools

The Flint Community School district has said it is unfair to include total FTE as one third of the formula because it disadvantages the city district, which once was the largest in the county but has since lost ground to suburban districts.

GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel testified that all three factors, including FTE, are of equal importance.

“However, the funding formula does not provide equal funding for the three factors,” St. John wrote in his recommendation. “Because the three numbers are simply averaged together, the larger number of FTE students dwarfs the smaller SEHC number and substantially dwarfs the much smaller SEFTE number. Rather than using relative percentages of each factor, they are simply added together and then divided. FTE therefore dominates both the numerator and the denominator in the current formula resulting in a skewed distribution of funds.”

St. John added that Hagel’s concern that altering the plan would result in less money for some special education students in some districts was also “heartfelt and entirely legitimate.”

The current GISD plan is in violation of state law because it does not meet the individual needs of each student with a disability, particularly those special education students attending Flint Community Schools, St. John wrote. He said the plan is also arbitrary and capricious.

However, he did not suggest removing FTE entirely as a factor for allocation of funds. Instead, St. John suggested weighting the three factors to ensure that the total student count in a district does not outweigh the number of special education students.

“It is the sincere hope of the Administrative Law Judge that the parties can come together to work through their differences toward their common goal of educating all students in Genesee County,” St. John wrote.

The GISD appreciates the thoughtful review and recommendation made by Administrative Law Judge St. John to State Superintendent Rice, GISD Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said in a statement to MLive/The Flint Journal.