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BCTF Advantage
Teacher Magazine Volume 31, Number 2
Nov./Dec. 2018

Danger! Government considering new funding model A disaster for kids with special needs?

By Glen Hansman, BCTF President and Michal Rozworski, BCTF staff

Imagine it's September. You have a new class and you have little information about any of your students and their learning needs. Your administrator says not to worry because not having information will give you the chance to get to know your students without any judgment or preconceptions. You wonder about class composition and are told that doesn't matter since students are no longer labelled. You ask about supports and resources and how you will know what's needed for your students. You receive a smile and a shrug. That's what you get for trying to do your job, you find out.

Now you are really worried. In fact, alarmed. Something twigs your memory and you remember that Kindergarten and early primary teachers have raised similar concerns for years. They teach young students who come to school with particular needs, but without any prior assessments. The dearth of learning plans, long waiting lists for assessment, and lack of meaningful supports can be overwhelming and counter-productive-for both teachers and students.

Such a move for the whole K-12 system looks like it's in the works. The idea of decategorizing students' identified needs has been part of educational discourse for many years. However, now a new funding model could help make it a reality. And it could turn out to be a funding model that your union strongly disagrees with.

New model might break the link between funding and identified needs

Last year, the Ministry of Education announced a funding model review and appointed an independent panel to develop a new funding formula.

The public have yet to see the panel's recommendations, despite them being delivered to government before the end of last school year. In March 2018, however, the panel released a preliminary document called the Funding Model Review Discussion Paper. While this paper discusses several items pertaining to education funding, the section on special education funding is especially problematic and troubling.

Here's why.

Some are lobbying to decouple funding and special needs. They declare that linkages to collective agreement language are out of date. In other words, your class-composition language is a barrier to their agenda. Does this ring a bell? Think 2002.

They also say that designations or diagnoses can create expectations for services that aren't necessarily required to meet students' learning needs-or that they create paperwork judged to be unnecessary. They argue that because spending for students with special needs is already greater than what government funds, because there aren't enough specialist teachers, and because some parents do not want their children labelled, a new funding model is in order.

What's predictive or prevalence funding?

The panel is considering funding allocated via predictive, statistical modelling based on population-wide prevalence rates instead. Such a model already exists in some provinces. For example, in Ontario, a large part of special education funding is distributed according to a “black box” statistical model that takes older provincial prevalence rates and tries to guess how many children in a given district will have special needs, based on chosen demographic information such as family income.

Don't let the word “predictive” fool you. From a policy-making perspective, predictive funding creates new pressures and inequities. It doesn't mean meeting students' needs.

  • In the current system, identification plays a key role in special education funding in classrooms and schools, despite funding ultimately not following the student. Under a predictive system, no link exists between students and funds. Greater pressure to ration funds results. No targeted funding means kids lose out and teachers burn out.
  • Depending on how good the predictive model is, some districts will win, others will lose relative to their actual needs.
  • A lot of identification will stop. If districts don't need to identify students to get funding, then parents with the means to get identifications will do so. It's possible their children will get services and others will not, perpetuating further inequities.
  • We know teachers are already incredible advocates for getting services and supports for their students with special needs, but they will have to become even greater advocates.

Ontario and Nova Scotia already use statistical modelling to allocate funding for inclusive education. Economist Hugh Mackenzie summarizes major concerns in a report to the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario:

“The breaking of the link between funding and needs has had profound implications for students, parents, teachers, and special education administrators. For students and parents there is no longer a link between needs and funding that can serve as a guide to available services. For teachers, there is no longer any link between special education needs identified in a classroom setting and additional resources to address those needs. The role of special education administrators has been transformed from one of enabling access to needed services to a gatekeeping role of rationing scarce resources and cost containment.”

One more problem we can't ignore

Government may choose to go ahead and announce a new funding model in February. Not consulting the education community, including teachers and parents, in a full and in-depth discussion concerning implications and impacts is a grave mistake.

There is also the question of timing, especially when we're about to enter bargaining. We certainly hope this is an oversight and not a bargaining strategy.

BCTF funding recommendations for successful inclusion

Based on feedback from teachers and their provincial specialist associations, Local Presidents, Local Representatives, and AGM delegates, the BCTF has submitted a brief on education funding to the provincial government in advance of the 2019 provincial budget.

Here are our recommendations on inclusion and special education:

  • That the Ministry of Education align special education funding with special education needs, closing the current gap between what school districts receive in special education funding and the much greater amount they spend on special education, including dedicated funding for professional learning for teachers.
  • That the Ministry of Education provide targeted funding to support the early identification and designation of students with special needs, particularly in the K-1 years.
  • That the Ministry of Education introduce per-student funding amounts for high incidence designations into the funding formula, including children with learning disabilities and those requiring moderate behaviour support.

What can you do?

  • Talk to parents, administrators and your colleagues with your concerns.
  • Contact your MLA and school trustees about the new funding model.
  • Get involved in bargaining support in your local.
  • For more information on this topic, please read the BCTF Education Funding Brief (October 2018) at bctf.ca/2018EdFundingBrief/.
  • BCTF research reports are found at bctf.ca/research.aspx. 
  • K-12 Public Education Funding Model Review www2.gov.bc.ca

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