Flint, MI— On Friday, a judge determined Genesee Intermediate School District’s special education funding model is illegal and does not meet the needs of Flint special education students. His recommendation will go to State Superintendent Michael F. Rice for a final ruling.
If Rice accepts the judge’s recommendation, it could mean tens of thousands more dollars for Flint students with disabilities.
“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,” wrote Administrative Law Judge Michael St. John in the Proposal for Decision.
The recommendation comes after Flint schools took the GISD to court, claiming the formula used to decide how the money is dispersed among districts is unfair.
FCS filed their suit in February, alleging the formula does not provide adequate financial support for Flint students because its weighted in favor of districts with a higher total student population.
There are several “steps” that must occur before the Proposal is presented to Rice.
“It’s a beautiful thing here in the City of Flint for our kids knowing that the Administrative Law Judge saw what we saw—that our kids were not being fully taken care of,” Arthur Woodson said, a community activist who, alongside Flint Schools Board of Education Treasurer Danielle Green, was instrumental in taking the matter before the courts.
“When I started talking about this, my other board members said it couldn’t be done. This is tremendous,” Green said.
Green and Woodson blew the whistle in Nov. 2019 after Green noticed the financials were not adding up, Green said.
Both said members of the ISD and GISD Superintendent Lisa Hagel knew the formula was “shortchanging” Flint students. During the July hearing, GISD’s counsel argued the formula was legal and that GISD was under no obligation “to distribute funds at all.”
“Lisa Hagel knew that it was unfair, but they thought it was legal. And instead of doing the humane thing, it was all about business as usual with them. And it’s sad to know that the state allowed them to do it over the years,” Woodson said.
Superintendent Rice will likely accept the judge’s recommendation and rule in favor of FCS, said Flint Schools’ lawyer Kendall Williams. Details about what funding model GISD would have to adopt are still forthcoming.
“If, at the end of the formal objection process, a final determination is made that the Act 18 formula is to be changed, the GISD would follow the guidance provided and work with all local district superintendents, public school academy directors, and the parent advisory committee to make any required modifications. Since the Act 18 funds are distributed to local districts over five disbursements, there would likely be ample time to address any required modifications through this process,” Tunnicliff said.
Forcing GISD to produce a fairer special education funding model would have implications for schools around the state. “It would be significant in terms of a legal precedent for special education plans. It would force other intermediate school districts in Michigan to look at their plans,” Williams said.