Flint, MI— Flint Schools officials are praising a decision to change the way special education funds are dispersed in Genesee County as one that will benefit, not only Flint students, but all special education children at local districts under the GISD.

“This isn’t just a step forward for Flint Community Schools—it’s a step forward for all students in Genesee County who rely on the critical special education services schools provide,” said Casey Lester, president of the Flint Schools Board of Education. 

State Superintendent Michael Rice ordered Nov. 24 that the Genesee Intermediate School District must change its current special education funding formula because it “does not satisfy the legal requirements that intermediate school district plans be designed to meet the needs of each student with a disability.”

The move comes after citizens and board members raised concerns about the fairness of the formula last fall. In February, Flint Schools filed a formal objection with the GISD, alleging that the formula for how special education funds were distributed did not provide adequate financial support to Flint students with special education needs.

An administrative hearing was held in June. Attorney Kendall Williams, who represented Flint Schools at the hearing, proposed a new formula and called for change. GISD attorneys Lorie Steinhauer and Jeremy Chisholm argued the formula was legal and that GISD was under no obligation “to distribute funds at all.”

In October, Judge Michael St. John determined the formula violated state law in his recommendation to Rice.

“The current GISD Special Education Plan violates state law because the funding formula under the Plan does not meet the individual needs of each student with a disability in Genesee County, particularly those special education students attending FCS,” St. John wrote. 

In Rice’s final ruling, he ordered the formula be modified immediately. 

“I know so many parents and guardians who are going to be relieved that their children with special needs will have the resources they need to succeed,” said Vera Perry, Flint Schools board member. “I’m grateful for the hard work of the Williams Firm and Flint Community Schools administration, who identified the issue and has stayed on top of it in order to support our students.”

The Current Formula 

At present, the GISD Mandatory Plan allocates $3.8 million dollars of Act 18 Millage Funds to local districts for special education reimbursement. GISD distributes the money between its 21 districts and 14 charter schools based on a three-part, blended student formula:

  1. Total special education full-time equivalency (FTE) headcount (or students who must be educated in a special education classroom for the majority of the school day).
  2. Total number of students who receive special education services (this includes special ed FTE and students who receive “push in and pull out” services, which means they are pulled out of general education classrooms for services, like speech therapy, and don’t spend the majority of their time at school in special education classrooms).
  3. Total student headcount adjusted for part-time enrollees (the general student body population).

GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel testified at the June hearing that it was “equally important to reimburse” all three components of the formula. 

Rice stated otherwise in his ruling, writing that the formula was weighted in a way that benefited districts with a higher general student population rather than those with the most special education students. 

Rice also wrote that the formula, which was written and adopted in 1998, did not accommodate Flint Schools’ declining population and unique circumstances created by the water crisis. 

“Whether Act 18 millage funds were distributed based on an average of the three factors, an average of two of the factors, or one of the factors alone would have been of little consequence to Flint in 1998-1999. However, with Flint’s share of Genesee’s total FTE plummeting from 30.4% to 5.91% between 1998-1999 and 2019-2020 (a drop of 80.6%) … the significance for Flint of inclusion of total FTE has heightened,” Rice wrote. 

The GISD Board of Education voted in October to disperse Act 18 funds to all districts based on the current formula. 

Special education funding dispersement based on the current Act 18 formula. The GISD Board of Education approved the payment schedule in Octoboer (Information courtsey of the GISD).

Flint Schools have the highest number of special education FTE students in Genesee County, a total of 262 students and was projected to receive $252,307.95 in special education funds. 

To compare, the Grand Blanc School district has 152 special education FTE students and would have received $491,198.88 under the current formula. 

Creating a New Formula 

In Rice’s ruling, he recommended a new formula that averages the sum of each local district’s or public school academy’s share of Genesee’s special education FTE and its share of Genesee’s special education head count. The proposed formula would remove general student population from the equation entirely. 

“I find that, in Genesee, application of this formula, which omits the factor of total FTE, will cure the legal deficiencies of the Genesee plan,” Rice wrote. 

If the new formula is adopted, Flint Schools will receive approximately $550,000 in special education funding for the 2020-21 school year. 

However, Rice stated that the GISD may propose their own formula that will be subject to his review. 

“This decision impacts each and every local school district and public school academy in Genesee County. The GISD will discuss the impact of the decision, and any potential next steps, with the 21 local school district superintendents, 14 public school academy leaders, and the parent advisory committee, in the near future. Any decisions on developing an alternative formula to recommend to State Superintendent Rice, that differs from the formula set forth in his decision, would be a shared decision among each of these constituents,” GISD Associate Superintendent Steven Tunnicliff said. 

In addition to Flint Schools, the following districts are expected to receive and increase in funding: 

  • Carman Ainsworth
  • Linden Schools
  • Mt. Morris Schools
  • Kearsley Schools
  • Genesee Schools
  • Flushing Schools
  • Bendle Schools

“Adequate funding for children with special needs is about more than dollars and cents. It equates to giving children the opportunity to have a full life and to be independent,” said Betty Ramsdell, Flint Schools Board member. “I’m glad to see this issue settled in a way that will address the real needs of the community, and I hope it will open doors for future opportunities to reevaluate old processes and ensure they are serving the children they were designed to serve.” 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...