(Correction: an earlier version of this story contained technical inaccuracies regarding the administrative appeals process and incorrectly stated that Superintendent Rice did not suggest a new formula in his ruling.)

Flint, MI— State Superintendent Michael Rice determined Tuesday that the formula used by the Genesee Intermediate School District to distribute special education funds among local districts was unfair and did not provide for the needs of Flint students.

Due to this ruling, the GISD will have to modify its current formula. 

“In my judgment, the plan thus does not satisfy the legal requirements that intermediate school district plans be designed to meet the needs of each student with a disability, that the plans be continually evaluated and modified to that end, and that Act 18 millage funds be limited to special education purposes,” Rice wrote in his final ruling. 

Rice also stated 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. 

“The evidence shows that the effect of the formula applied to Flint is significantly different today than it was in the past, when the circumstances related to the district’s total student population and its special education student population were utterly dissimilar to what they are today,” Rice said. 

The ruling comes after an administrative hearing in July where Flint Schools claimed the formula used to decide how the money is dispersed among districts is unfair. Administrative Law Judge Michael St. John oversaw the hearing. In his written recommendation, he stated the formula “violates state law.”

Flint Schools filed their suit against the GISD in February, alleging the formula does not provide adequate financial support for Flint students because it’s weighted in favor of districts with a higher total student population.

Arthur Woodson, a community activist, and Flint Schools Board of Education Treasurer Danielle Green were instrumental in taking the matter before the courts.

Both said members of the ISD and GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel knew the formula was “shortchanging” Flint students. 

During the initial July hearing, GISD’s counsel argued the formula was legal and that GISD was under no obligation “to distribute funds at all.”

“It appears as though we prevailed in getting our objections approved and getting the plan modified… And it’s not only about Flint, it’s all special education students in Genesee County. There is going to be more, in our opinion, fair allocation and distribution of those funds focused on special education students,” said Kendall Williams, attorney for Flint Schools. 

Rice ordered that the formula be modified immediately and specified a new formula in his ruling. However, he said the GISD could reccomend a different formula which would be subject to his approval.

“I underscore that this ruling does not preclude Genesee from working in collaboration with its constituent districts, public school academies, and parent advisory committee to modify its plan to incorporate a different distribution method that adequately addresses the legal deficiencies of the current formula,” he said. 

Carmen Nesbitt

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...