If King Solomon had referred the case of the baby and the two mother wannabes to the Maryland General Assembly, the case would have lingered through the kid’s Bar Mitzvah and then some. Had the child attended a Maryland school, moreover, he might well have been included in the dismayingly large number of Maryland grade schoolers who require the services of a special education teacher. That’s a discouraging thought, not least, but not only because a child is in need of intervention.
Special education is a mess in Maryland (as elsewhere). Students, of course, are the victims of our public schools’ inability to implement an affordable, reasonably well-functioning model for assessing special education needs and for delivering the appropriate intervention. If either of the charter school bills now under consideration in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, (SB 669 and HB 625) is enacted, the situation for many Maryland students in need of special education services will get worse.
Each of the proposed bills requires a school system to both include and exclude special education funds in calculating the funding for charter schools. Specifically, each bill provides that a charter school “shall receive any restricted funds for which it is eligible.” Restricted funds means funds, such as supplemental funds provided by the Federal government to schools with large low income populations (so-called Title I funds) which have to be spent for a particular purpose. Some but not all funds used in public schools for special education are “restricted funds,” that is, they are earmarked for special education services. Consequently, they must be used for special education purposes and, under the proposed bill, they must be paid to charter schools.
Despite the mandate that all restricted funds — a large part of which consist of funds for special education — must be paid to charter schools, the bill requires, in deriving the total pot of unrestricted money from which the per pupil allocation to charter schools, that the school board “subtract expenditures for special education…”
There are two problems with that “subtract expenditures” language. The first is that it directly contradicts the earlier requirement that all special education funds that happen to be restricted funds must be paid to the schools. The second is that even if the contradictory language is reconciled in some way, it allows the school board to bifurcate special education funds, expending the unrestricted funds budgeted for special education from the central office while restricted funds are expended directly by the charter schools.
School systems have enough trouble coordinating expenditures on special education with other expenditures without having to coordinate part of each special education dollar being spent by the school board and part spent by the school. Special education pretty much means special education teachers. There are practical difficulties in forcing special education teachers to server two paymasters, so to speak, even with the most sincere efforts at coordination.
For example, charter schools often receive funds late, and always on a different funding schedule than the special education office of a school system. In addition, in any given school, the need for special education services ebbs and flows in the course of the year.
Splitting the baby was a preposterous solution in the Solomon story, and it’s a preposterous way to fund special education. Neither King Solomon nor the real mother of the baby would ever have gone for the split the baby solution. No doubt the General Assembly can be counted on to put the children’s interests first, as the real mother in the Bible story did, and reject these bills.