I have had the good fortune to meet recently with several of our local legislators. In particular, I have really appreciated making the acquaintance of Senator Thomas Albert of the 18th District. Senator Albert is very committed to fully funding special education costs for all students in the state. As we discussed this, it occurred to me that many folks do not know how Special Education funding works and the impact it has on our general education budget.

The federal government has strongly supported the rights of students who have special needs to support their learning. Many laws and rules have resulted from the recognition of the need to provide adequate access to resources for those students. This is a really good thing. The regrettable reality is that over the years, many unfunded mandates have been created. This means we must comply with laws to do what we know is best for our students without the funding required to support those staff and programs fully.

Our funding for special education programming flows through Eaton RESA, our partner in providing the additional specialists we need (occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, psychological evaluations, social work staff, and our Special Education Director). We have been the beneficiaries of excellent leadership at ERESA which has strived to create transparent and fair funding processes for special education and yet there is still not sufficient funds available to fund what our students need.

As you can imagine, if the funds are not available for mandated programs, the additional costs must come out of our general education budget. The same is true for our transportation costs which while not required by law as special education services are, we know how critical this need is within our community to get our kids safely to school. Transportation is another unfunded item that comes out of our general education fund. As our ESSER funds are spent on learning recovery, curriculum, and training we will be looking closely at our budget. We have done an excellent job with our board’s oversight to grow our general fund balance. Still, future funding won’t help us to continue increasing our fund balance unless we can get some additional support for unfunded mandates and needs within our district.

To that end, I ask you to reach out to all of our legislators to encourage them to examine transportation and special education funding that allows us to maintain high-quality programs that supplement our general education programs. Senator Albert in particular will be glad to hear from you and your support will help him in his advocacy at the Capital. You can write to him at sentalbert@senate.michigan.gov

Thank you for your advocacy for our students!

It is a great day to advocate for the Valley!

Dr. Katherine Bertolini

Dr. Bertolini