Montana universities, schools plead to restore budget cuts

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Implications of Reduced Federal Medicaid Funds: How Could States Fill the Funding Gap?

The Congress is currently debating the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would not only repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but also make far-reaching changes to the structure and financing of Medicaid. The AHCA would use a per capita cap policy or block grants to cap federal funds to states for Medicaid. Facing reductions in federal Medicaid funding, states could offset lost federal dollars by raising taxes or reducing other state spending (like K-12 education), or states could reduce spending in Medicaid by finding savings or (more likely) by restricting eligibility, benefits, or payments to providers. However, many efficiencies were adopted by state Medicaid programs during the last two major recessions when revenues dropped and budgets were constrained leaving states with few options for easy ways to trim additional spending in the future. On March 13, 2017 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the AHCA would reduce federal Medicaid spending by $880 billion over the 2017-2026 period. By 2026, Medicaid spending would be about 25% less than what CBO projects under current law.

In this analysis, we examine the fiscal implications of state actions to offset the loss of federal Medicaid funding to maintain rather than cut Medicaid programs. This analysis is intended to be illustrative and not predictive of actual state outcomes. In contrast, the CBO estimate of a 25% reduction in federal Medicaid funding by 2026 reflects projections and accounts for federal changes in policy, state responses to the policy change, and reductions in coverage.

What does this analysis do? In this analysis, we present three scenarios of reductions in federal Medicaid spending and examine fiscal implications if all reductions had been in full effect in FFY 2015 (the most recent year for which Medicaid spending data is available). In these scenarios, we assume states fill the gaps caused by federal funding reductions by increasing state spending for Medicaid. To achieve those increases, we examine potential implications for state taxes and education spending by state and by groups of states including expansion status, political party, region and poverty quartile and highlight the groups that could experience the largest effects. These results are illustrative: each state would likely make different policy choices, and states could implement a combination of approaches, or choose not to completely offset the federal reduction.

What does this analysis not do? Unlike the CBO estimates, this analysis does not make projections or anticipate changes to state Medicaid programs through reducing eligibility levels, benefits, or reimbursement rates. If states do undertake these changes to their Medicaid programs, federal reductions would likely be larger. This analysis of the impact in FFY 2015 does not assume that states will drop coverage and does not account for states that may have adopted the expansion in the future.

What were the estimated reductions in federal spending in three scenarios? This analysis estimated reductions in federal Medicaid spending under three scenarios: (1) repeal of the ACA enhanced match rate for expansion adults ($21 billion), (2) repeal of the ACA plus a 10% reduction in federal Medicaid spending for the non-expansion population ($47 billion), and (3) repeal of the ACA plus a 20% reduction in federal Medicaid spending for the non-expansion population ($73 billion). All estimates assume that the full effect of the reductions are experienced in FFY 2015. Beyond the repeal of the ACA enhanced matching funds, the reductions are not based on specific policy changes but rather are based on illustrative potential federal Medicaid spending reductions. If states were to maintain Medicaid services, these reductions would require increases in state Medicaid funding to fill in the gaps in federal funding. Median state Medicaid spending per resident was $534 in FFY 2015. Under the three scenarios, the reduction in federal Medicaid funds would result in a median increase of state Medicaid spending per resident ranging from 16.8% to 36.3%.

What are the potential implications for state taxes and education? States could choose to respond in many ways. For example, they could raise taxes or reduce education spending to fill in gaps in federal funding for Medicaid. Median state tax per resident was $2,715 in 2015. If states opt to raise taxes, the median increase in state taxes per resident would range from 3.0% to 8.0% under the three scenarios; if states increased the largest state tax, the median would range from 8.4% to 18.1%. For most states (29 states), the income tax is the largest state tax followed by sales tax (15 states). Median total spending per pupil for education was $10,961 in 2015. If states opted to fill the gap by reducing state government spending for education, states could face median reductions in state funding for K-12 education per pupil of 10.3% to 23.3% and total funding for K-12 education spending per pupil of 5.4% to 13.2%.

How are different groups of states affected by reductions? Due to the changes in the enhanced match rate, states that have adopted the Medicaid expansion will experience larger federal funding reductions; this outcome is true across states with Republican and Democratic governors. For example, in the scenario that would repeal the ACA enhanced match rate and reduce traditional Medicaid spending by 20%, expansion states would face higher median tax increases and larger reductions in education to fill the federal funding gaps compared to non-expansion states (ES 1). This increased budget pressure could make it difficult for states to maintain the Medicaid expansion. Funding reductions that go beyond eliminating the enhanced match for the ACA Medicaid expansion and entail cuts to the traditional Medicaid program could have a disproportionate effect on states with high poverty. Even though these poorer states spend less per resident on Medicaid, their federal reimbursement rate is relatively high, and so the impact of federal cuts is large.

Figure ES1: How Could States Fill the Gaps in Reduced Federal Medicaid Funding?

Issue Brief

Weber’s Bill Will Give New Teachers More Time

In her second year, Lara’s circumstances changed. She was still working on her credential, but was assigned her own math and science special education class. Each student had an Individualized Education Plan. While trying to meet the instructional needs of her learners, it took a couple months for Lara to find a mentor in her subject area. She had to plan for multiple grade levels and for collaboration with teaching assistants and behavior specialists who supported her students. Sometimes, she stayed at school until after nine to take care of her workload. It was a rough first semester. By the end of January, the principal notified her that she would not be returning the following year.

High Court Backs More Robust Standard For FAPE

In a unanimous ruling with major implications for special education, the U.S. Supreme Court said that public schools must provide students with disabilities more than a minimal benefit.

The decision issued Wednesday comes in a case known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which pitted the parents of a Colorado boy with autism against their school district.

After Endrew F. made little progress attending public school, his parents placed him at a private school and sought reimbursement. However, a lower court rejected their claim saying that reimbursement was unwarranted since the boy received “some” educational benefit.

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In reversing that ruling this week, the Supreme Court affirmed a higher standard for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandate that students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education.

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “The IDEA demands more.”

FAPE typically means offering “a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum,” the court indicated.

However, for students who are not fully integrated in general education classrooms, Roberts wrote that individualized education programs do not need to aim for grade-level advancement, but “must be appropriately ambitious in light of (a student’s) circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.”

“The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” reads the opinion.

The ruling does not go as far as the family of Endrew F. hoped. They argued that FAPE should ensure children with disabilities an education that allows them opportunities that are “substantially equal” to that of typically-developing kids. But the court determined that such a high bar would be “entirely unworkable.”

Nonetheless, disability advocates hailed the ruling as a victory.

“We expect this unanimous decision to be transformative in the lives of student with disabilities,” said Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. “Today the (Supreme Court) affirmed what we know to be the promise of the IDEA.”

The ruling comes in the midst of Senate hearings to confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch to a seat on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch had previously ruled on a similar case and had supported the lower standard that was rejected by the high court’s ruling.

CCC center ahead of schedule

In this Hub file photo, Central Community College President Greg Smith, middle, is joined by dignitaries and board members as they turn dirt for the new CCC Kearney Learning Center at 30th Avenue and 11th Street. The $23.3 million, 63,000-square-foot campus will be located across the street from the new Kearney High School and is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

Better Marriage Between College and Job Training

In a rare point of agreement, the Trump administration and many academics would like to see less focus on colleges as work force development centers.

The administration has said too many students are being prodded toward bachelor’s degrees over apprenticeships and other noncollege options.

“We must embrace new and effective job-training approaches, including online courses, high school curriculums and private-sector investment that prepare people for trade, manufacturing, technology and other really well-paying jobs and careers,” President Trump said last week during a meeting on vocational training with U.S. and German business leaders.

“These kinds of options can be a positive alternative to a four-year degree,” he said. “So many people go to college, four years, they don’t like it, they’re not necessarily good at it, but they’re good at other things, like fixing engines and building things.”

Likewise, many in higher education, mostly at four-year institutions, resist pressure for colleges to be more attuned to their occupational role, arguing in defense of general education and decrying the transactional view of college as being primarily a means to a job.

College and faculty leaders also tend to dislike performance metrics that are based on graduates’ employment and earnings.

Yet higher education has been the federal government’s primary work force system for decades. And that is unlikely to change, experts said.

Just 6 percent of the roughly $114 billion the federal government spends annually on work force development and education goes toward noncollege job-training programs, according to data from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. (See graphic, below.)

Higher education gets a much larger share of that funding — roughly 34 percent — with K-12 receiving a similarly large portion.

“We’re spending more on job training than ever before. It’s just that the funding has moved to education,” said Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills with the education policy program at New America and a former official at the U.S. Education and Labor Departments.

This was not always the case. Anthony Carnevale, the Georgetown center’s director, said job training and employment programs outside higher education and K-12 accounted for 40 percent of the federal work force budget in 1978.

One reason for the shift is that at least 60 percent of jobs now require at least some college education, according to the center, up from 28 percent in 1973. The trend will continue, Carnevale said.

In addition, federal spending on higher education is an easier political sell than paying for occupational or vocational programs that train workers outside college.

“It’s not the thing middle-class people want for their kids,” said Carnevale.

So higher education became the preferred system for job training, he said, a trend that began in the 1980s and accelerated during the Clinton administration, which shuttered federal job-training programs in exchange for higher education subsidies aimed at the middle class. (Employers spend $177 million a year in formal job training, the center has said, an amount that is increasing, but less quickly than overall spending on higher education.)

“Higher education became the chicken in every pot,” said Carnevale. “It moves votes.”

‘Time for a Reboot’

Yet nobody seems particularly happy about the federal government’s current approach to job training.

Bipartisan angst about the skills gap has become more urgent, as employers say they struggle to hire work-ready employees. Meanwhile, a wide range of experts said noncollege federal work force programs are inefficient, duplicative and lacking in incentives.

The current $18 billion annual federal work force budget is divvied up among roughly 50 programs.

“It’s spread across a wide range of programs for niche audiences,” said Jason Tyszko, executive director of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, who describes federal work force programs as being “stretched thin.”

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which was enacted in 2015 and replaced an outdated predecessor law, is the largest of the federal job-training programs. Its $3.4 billion annual budget is intended to extend across education, training and job-support services, with a goal of helping job seekers and employers as well as setting priorities for local, state and regional work force investment priorities — a big ask.

The program’s task won’t get easier, at least if the Trump administration’s budget plan takes hold in the U.S. Congress.

The White House has called for a $2.5 billion, or 21 percent, cut to the Labor Department’s $9.6 billion in annual funding. While Trump’s budget document was relatively light on details, the National Skills Coalition projected that it would result in as much as a 50 percent cut to WIOA’s budget.

The White House plan also would decrease “federal support for job training and employment service formula grants, shifting more responsibility for funding these services to states, localities and employers.”

A broad coalition of work force and labor groups criticized the proposed cuts, calling them unnecessary and inconsistent with the Trump administration’s job-creation goals.

But Tyszko, citing two 2011 Government Accountability Office reports that described wasteful overlap and fragmentation of federal work force programs, said funding levels aren’t the main problem.

“Throwing more money at these programs and how they run could actually have diminishing returns,” he said.

Likewise, a broad range of experts agreed with Tyszko that the time is ripe for the federal government to reconsider its approach to occupational training.

“There really needs to be a fundamental reconciliation between higher education and work force development,” said Maria Flynn, president and CEO of Jobs for the Future and a former official with the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.

Better coordination between the Labor and Education Departments is needed, she said, with particular attention to the interplay between WIOA and the Pell Grant program, which is the primary federal grant for low-income students. (The Trump budget would cut $3.9 billion from the Pell program’s reserves.)

There are some signs that the two systems are being steered together, Flynn said.

For example, she cited a bipartisan legislative proposal in the U.S. Senate that would allow students to use Pell Grants for short-term job-training credentials, such as college-issued certificates. Currently Pell can be applied only to programs that take more than 15 weeks or 600 clock hours to complete.

Other promising ideas Flynn mentioned include an Education Department experiment that is granting temporary access to federal financial aid for noncollege training entities, including skills boot camps and online course providers, under partnerships with accredited colleges on job training in high-demand fields.

Likewise, Flynn said the college and career pathways approach championed by the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Association of Community Colleges can help students follow a more structured route to completion and a job.

Structured pathways share some resemblance to the German model of nudging students toward an occupation earlier in their academic career, she said, without the controversial student “tracking” that’s a tough sell in this country.

“In the U.S. there’s some middle ground we can get to,” she said, “by really emphasizing the idea of pathways.”

Likewise, McCarthy and others said the federal government could do more to prevent students from having to spend more time and money than is necessary on vocational training.

Perverse incentives, she said, encourage colleges to make academic programs credit bearing and longer than might be ideal. For example, some medical assistant and early childhood programs were noncredit in the past. But to make those offerings financially viable, McCarthy said, many community colleges and for-profits began offering credit-bearing options in those fields.

One overarching fix to the lack of coordination on job training, according to McCarthy, would be for some Labor Department programs to be folded into Congress’s looming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is the law that oversees federal aid. She said that shared focus could benefit college-based occupational training, too.

“We have to bring what we know about good training quality to the higher education side,” said McCarthy. “It’s definitely time for a reboot.”

Market for Apprentices

Apprenticeships in particular appear to be in vogue as the GOP dominates both federal and state policy making.

The president and Ivanka Trump, his daughter, met last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a group of corporate executives from the U.S. and Germany to discuss vocational training. Ivanka Trump said the executives would form a task force that would produce a report on training programs that should be expanded.

President Trump reportedly has embraced a call by one of those executives to create five million apprenticeships within five years. That would be a steep increase from the current number of apprentices — roughly 450,000 — who are enrolled in Labor Department-registered programs, according to McCarthy.

The White House has pushed for private funding for apprenticeships and job training, with Ivanka Trump reportedly saying last week that “ingenuity, creativity often comes from the determination of the private sector.” And last year Congress added $90 million in funding for apprentice programs.

The Trump budget says it will help states expand apprenticeships, although it doesn’t specify new money for them. But the $1 trillion in infrastructure spending the White House has said it is mulling probably would include funding for apprenticeships and other job training. (Carnevale’s center projects that 55 percent of jobs created under such a program would not require any college, with 60 percent of new infrastructure jobs requiring no more than six months of on-the-job training.)

Some observers said the current structure of the Labor Department’s apprenticeship program can be balky. To participate, companies often must file voluminous applications and wait months for the feds to respond.

“It’s a bureaucratic process where those who are good at filling out papers get the funds,” said Ryan Craig, co-founder of University Ventures, an investment firm. “Government is ill positioned to pick winners.”

As a result, Craig is focused on job-training “intermediaries” between colleges and employers, where the money comes from job seekers or from employers themselves. Examples include Revature, an employer-funded training firm, and boot camps like Galvanize and General Assembly.

Yet there’s a role for government in promoting apprenticeships, Craig said.

He cites the United Kingdom’s apprenticeship levy, which goes into effect next month. The U.K. is requiring all employers with an annual payroll of more than 3 million pounds ($3.74 million) to pay a tax of 0.5 percent of their payroll amount on apprenticeships, with the government kicking in an extra 10 percent “top-up” to those apprenticeship funds.

Craig called the levy an exciting idea, which, if combined with the right incentives and outcomes requirements, would be worth a look in this country.

“We need to figure out how to spawn a market here,” he said.

Trump administration budget to decrease higher education budget …

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal suggests downsizing the Department of Education by 13 percent, or $9 billion, and eliminates multiple grants, including Pell Grants and other programs aimed at helping low-income students.

The proposed budget reduces or eliminates funding for more than 20 departmental programs, including removing $2.4 billion in grants for teacher training and $1.2 billion in funding for after-school programs. At a rally in Tennessee, Trump said this budget will be more efficient, cutting programs on the basis of redundancy.

“(The budget will lower) costs to the taxpayer by reducing or eliminating funding for programs that are not effective, that duplicate other efforts or that do not serve national needs,” Trump said at the rally.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos agreed, promising the most “vulnerable” students will be protected despite the large cuts being made.

“This budget maintains our department’s focus on supporting states and school districts with the goal of providing an equal opportunity for a quality education to all students,” DeVos said at a conference in Washington D.C. on Feb. 14. 

Still, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.), the former chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, said in a statement that despite claims some education programs are duplicative, many students still rely on them.

“President Trump’s proposed budget would put education even further out of reach for families by cutting or eliminating vital programs students rely on to help fund their college education, including cutting federal work-study programs and ending Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, which more than 52,000 students in Michigan received last year.” 

Low-income students are expected to be most affected. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, which provides need-based aid to 1.6 million undergraduates a year, is slated to be eliminated.

LSA junior Enrique Zalamea, president of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said he does not see this as a loss, however, considering the criticism the program has received for being inefficient.

“A large portion of this budget cut comes from the reduction of the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant; an outdated program that gives money directly to colleges as opposed to low-income students.”

Additionally, the Trump administration plans to reduce the work-study program “significantly,” though it doesn’t detail how much it would be reduced. Currently, the program spends about $1 billion to provide more than 600,000 college students with jobs pertinent to their studies, according to the National Association for Financial Aid Administrators.

Though the work-study program has received bipartisan support for providing a job rather than a handout, it has been criticized for providing too much for the affluent and not enough for low-income families. The structure of the work-study program allocates money toward colleges and universities that have been in the program for a longer time; historically, those colleges and universities are more expensive and have wealthier students.

Additionally, Zalamea said the work-study is not effective at creating opportunities for those who would not have otherwise had them.

“Another large portion of the cuts come from reducing the federal work-study program, which actually demonstrates a high participation rate from people who would have worked regardless of the program, or from wealthy students,” he said.

TRIO programs, which are geared toward low-income, first-generation and disabled students, and GEAR UP face nearly $200 million in funding cuts. The University has been criticized for its lack of socioeconomic diversity and Public Policy junior Rowan Conybeare, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the University’s diversity will be further hindered without these programs.

“Low-income, first-generation and disabled students are unfortunately few and far between at UM,” Conybeare said. “Cuts to TRIO programs will only augment this issue.”

These cuts allow for the $1.4 billion expansion in voucher and private school programs, a favorite cause of DeVos. The $1.4 billion acts as a down payment to the eventual allocation of $20 billion toward voucher programs. If enacted, the $20 billion would represent one-third of federal education spending.

Despite DeVos’s claims that school of choice will give students more academic opportunities, Conybeare argued draining money from the public-school system is counterintuitive to that goal.

“Many students use school of choice as a means to seek out better academic opportunities,” Conybeare said. “If the Department of Education focused instead on funding and fixing our public-school system, there would be less of a need for the School of Choice program in the first place.”

However, Zalamea said school of choice will keep socioeconomic status from correlating with poor education.

“It’s sad to think that in the land of the free, your ZIP code determines your quality of education,” Zalamea said. “Undoubtedly, low-income families will benefit more from school choice than they will under our current, incredibly flawed public education system.”

Still alive is the Pell Grant program, which is the primary form of aid for low-income students and the largest federal grant program, though its funds would be reduced by $3.9 billion. They will still have access to $22.5 billion in discretionary funds as the proposed cuts come from their $10.6 billion surplus.

Regardless, Conybeare highlighted the prevalence of work study at the University and said inequality will be furthered without it.

“At UM alone, 16 percent of students received the Pell Grant in 2014-2015,” Conybeare said. “In the long term, this will only serve to increase inequalities in higher education.”

Zalamea pushed back against claims that this reduction is extensive, especially considering the reduction came out of a surplus in funding.

“Pell Grants are by far the largest single expenditure in the education budget, with an annual $28 billion,” Zalamea said. “A $3.9-billion reduction from their surplus is just a drop in the bucket compared to what is already being spent now.”

Students with disabilities will retain the $13 billion allocated to them through IDEA programs, and minority institutions, like historically Black colleges, will have access to $492 million. DeVos used this funding to justify cuts made.

“This budget also continues support for our nation’s most vulnerable populations, including students with disabilities,” DeVos said at a public appearance.

Regardless, Dingell voiced concern over the proposed budget, pointing out possible economic downfalls.

“It comes down to this: our young people are 25 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future,” Dingell wrote in a statement. “If we fail to invest in them, we fail to invest in the future of our families and our economic competitiveness.” 

Similarly, Rep. Gary Peters (D–Mich.) wrote in a press release that despite Trump’s efforts to make the United States more efficient, the costs outweigh the benefits.

“Congress has a responsibility to use taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively, and members of both parties must work together to reduce wasteful spending and help shrink the deficit,” he wrote. “But this proposal does more harm than good.”

Ivy Tech opening registration, hosting enrollment events

Ivy Tech Community College is hosting enrollment events at its Greencastle Campus and Avon site this month. Registration for summer and fall classes at the college opened March 20.

The Express Enrollment events are set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 22 at the Greencastle campus, 915 S. Zinc Mill Road, and March 23 at the Avon site, 7508 Beechwood Centre Road.

For more information or to make a reservation, visit the website at www.ivytech.edu/enrollmentday.

This event helps prospective students complete their enrollment steps and register for classes. By completing their enrollment steps now, students can get the classes they want and avoid the summer and fall registration rush. At the event, attendees can meet with Ivy Tech representatives and receive assistance filling out an application and completing new student orientation, financial aid, assessment and advising. To meet the assessment requirement, attendees can bring in their SAT/ACT/PSAT scores, high school transcript, college transcript, or take an assessment called the ACCUPLACER if needed.

Programs offered at the Greencastle campus include the General Education Transfer Core, which transfers to four-year institutions, licensed practical nursing, business administration, entrepreneurship and human services. Students can earn their degrees in these programs or take other classes that can be applied toward degrees at other Ivy Tech campuses. Services offered at the campus include Admissions, Advising, Assessment, Bookstore, Financial Aid, Bursar, Testing Center and Tutoring.

Ivy Tech’s Avon site offers a variety of general education courses including English, psychology, math, business and more. These courses transfer to degrees at other Ivy Tech campuses and to four-year colleges and universities.

Peer Buddies program drives inclusion at Williams Intermediate

The Williams Intermediate School’s Peer Buddies program brings general education students and special education students together to foster a culture of inclusion.

BRIDGEWATER – Williams Intermediate School student Ashlyn Meneses’s face was all wonder as the iridescent bubble floated slowly from the top of the wand to the tip of her nose.

It burst on contact and the look of bewilderment gave way to a wide grin and a hearty laugh.

Next to her, two of the school’s general education students, Kayla Pupek and Ashley Sink laughed with her, then Sink asked her to pick another activity on an electronic tablet.

Around the room, a similar scene unfolded among other groups. Students from the school’s general education population had volunteered to become “peer buddies” for students in one of the school’s special needs classrooms, like Meneses.

The goal of the “buddy classroom” program, said school speech therapist Barbara Methelis-Crowley, is to bring each of the groups together to foster a sense of inclusion and increase social interactions among the developmentally disabled students while giving the general education students a chance to learn more about specific disabilities and act as role models.

“It’s really a learning tool for the peer models to understand disabilities and what is, specifically, autism and down syndrome, and how to bring these kids into the community,” said Methelis-Crowley.

That community connection is important, she said, because the special education students will eventually need to be able to interact with society as a whole after their education concludes.

Methelis-Crowley said the program’s results can be seen through changes in the way students in the special needs classroom self-regulate their behavior, at times curtailing unexpected or inappropriate behaviors related to their disability in front of their peers, and their increased ability to pay attention to a group.

Principal Nancy Kirk said Williams’ high number of sub-separate classrooms and large proportion of high-needs students makes it a good building to start such a program in.

“It gets the other students to see and interact with students who may not be totally like them, but that’s OK,” she said. “They all get along, they all help each other, and it’s just not a big deal anymore.”

Through participation in the program, regular education students are able to obtain a deeper perspective on the challenges their special needs peers face, and they get to serve as role models in some cases.

“They’re the models for those students in those programs who need to see regular social interactions and need to be in classrooms where students are performing, maybe, a little bit above them but still they’re both in the same classroom succeeding at their own levels,” Kirk said. “It helps the special needs students see that they can have a place and succeed, just like any of their peers.”

For fourth-grader Marin Davis, volunteering to participate in the program was an easy call: helping children with special needs is something of a tradition in her family, with her parents and grandparents having been involved with such efforts at various points in their lives, she said.

“They all work with them, and they say ‘Every person matters,’” Davis said. “That’s the biggest concept, and I wanted to see how it would go and thought it would be good for them to interact with someone their own age and grade.”

Davis said the Peer Buddies program will likely be the first of many forays into special education – even at such an early stage in her education, she said she’s considering a career in the field.

Beyond the buddy classroom program, which takes place after the regular school day, Methelis-Crowley said she’s begun implementing parts of the program in classes like music and art, where the special needs students are sometimes included already.

“That shows everyone in the classroom, even those who are not peer buddies, and maybe they’ll want to be peer buddies just from seeing what is going on,” she said.

Got news tips? Contact Tom Relihan at trelihan@enterprisenews.com, or (508)468-0955.

Charter schools in line to get extra help despite Trump plan to slash education funding

Credit: Brenda Iasevoli for EdSource

Charter schools in California and elsewhere stand to be a major beneficiary of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the coming year, even though he wants to slash $9.2 billion from many other federal education programs.

Trump called for $1.4 billion in new funding for a “school choice” program that includes an increase of $250 million to subsidize tuition for private schools and $168 million for expanding charter schools. An additional $1 billion is for a program that would allow students to attend a public school of their choice, which could include charter schools. Trump has provided no details for any of these programs.

The extra $168 million for charter schools represents a 50 percent expansion of the Charter Schools Program from its current level of $333 million. The bulk of the funds are shared with states to support new charter schools. Two other grants within the program support the expansion of charter networks and facilities costs. The funds given to states can be spent on purchasing classroom equipment, such as laptops for students and desks, informing parents that schools are opening and training school staff.

Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, welcomed the proposed increase. “The charter school movement is grateful for the president’s support,” she said in a statement. “We applaud his commitment to providing critically needed funding for the Charter Schools Program. This funding will allow more high-quality charter schools to open, expand and replicate – and will help finance facilities for charter schools – so that more students have access to the great education they deserve.”

Some charter advocates in California, however, expressed concerns about Trump’s proposal to cut billions of dollars from many other federal education programs. Like traditional public schools, charter schools also stand to lose funds if Congress were to approve those cutbacks.

In 2016-17, California’s 1,253 charter schools enrolled 603,630 students.  “While we need time to dig deeper into the budget details and how exactly it will impact charter students, we are concerned that the federal government appears to be reducing its overall investment in K-12 education,” said Jason Mandell, a California Charter Schools Association spokesman. “This is of grave concern to us.”

States have to apply to receive a share of the federal funds allocated for the Charter Schools Program. The funds can be used for various purposes, including acquiring facilities to house a charter school and expanding existing charter networks.

The California Charter School Association is making a big push to expand enrollments from the current level of 600,000 to 1 million students by 2022.  Federal start-up funds will presumably help get the new schools needed to reach that number off the ground.

Last year, out of the $333 million national grant program, California received $49.9 million over a three-year period. The state in turn gives qualifying new charters up to $575,000 through the program. In addition, the Charter Schools Program distributed $68 million directly to charter networks around the nation, including three with schools in California: Amethod Public Schools, Equitas Academy Charter School Inc. and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program).

Ron Rice Jr., senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the funds are crucial to help get charters off the ground. The money, he said, “makes all the difference … it is the mother’s milk of new charter schools.”

The ability to tap federal funds does appear to make a difference in the viability of new charters. California noted in its 2016 application for federal funds that between 2010 and 2015, just 4 percent of charters that received money through the Charter Schools Program were shut down, compared with 14 percent of charters that didn’t receive the federal dollars.

“It was very helpful in terms of getting our facilities set up,” said Corrie Sands, academic director of Aspen Public, a Fresno charter school that opened in August 2016 with $575,000 in start-up funds through the Charter Schools Program. “We moved into and leased a facility with classroom space, but the floors needed to be redone, the painting needed to be done,” That included painting over murals with religious themes in a building that was formerly a church.   The school also had to purchase other materials, including desks for teachers and Chromebooks for students.

In 2010, California received a roughly $290 million five-year federal charter grant, which from 2010 to 2016 helped support 323 charter schools, a state report shows.

California also administers a separate stream of grant funds money that assists qualifying charter schools in covering the costs of leases on its facilities. In 2016-17, the state received $112 million to administer through the Charter School Facility Grant Program.

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