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Presentation to The Education Equality Task Force

By The Ontario Coalition for inclusive Education

September 25, 2002

London, Ontario

Thank you for this opportunity to outline our concerns with and recommendations for the improvement of the present Student – Focused Funding Formula. We will direct our comments specifically to the special education funding formula, focusing on ISA.

The Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education is comprised of 12 provincial and local organizations that are like-minded in their beliefs about inclusive education. We represent thousands of students and their families who advocate for a quality inclusive education. At the request of the Ministry of Education and Training back in 1995, the Coalition was formed to manage a 3-year project called Building Inclusive Schools. Since then we have continued to advocate for inclusive education through subsequent projects, and active lobbying of politicians and Ministry of Education staff.

The Coalition defines inclusive education as: “All students learning better together in a regular class in the neighbourhood school with support to participate in and contribute to the life of the school.”

Within the present special education envelope, we believe the following to be effective: the census-based allocation of the funding formula, Special Education Per Pupil Amount (SEPPA), and the Intensive Support Amount (ISA) Level 1 – which provides students with equipment and technology to be used as tools to enhance their learning. We believe, however, that SEPPA should be increased significantly and that a Reserve Fund should be made available to school boards, as a local priority amount that could respond to the individual needs of each community. These 3 envelopes (SEPPA, ISA 1 and a reserve fund) would be more effective in providing schools with the financial resources needed for students to be successful at school, than the present system. Such a funding mechanism would be responsive to outcomes of learning, as opposed to inputs of negative labeling and stereotypes as is currently promoted by ISA.

We believe that the special education funding formula, as allocated by the Intensive Support Amount (specifically ISA 2 and 3,and SIP), seriously compromises the integrity of the educational system and the legal right of students with disabilities to continue to be included in regular classrooms in neighbourhood schools.

We believe that the ISA funding formula is misguided and lacks those very principles upon which the Task Force believes a funding formula should be based.
ISA 2 and 3 funding:

  • is not fair nor is it equitable for students especially with intellectual disabilities, pervasive developmental disorder and behaviour issues.
  • does not respond to individual students needs rather it places students categorically in to groups,
  • does not address resources that would benefit student learning, and
  • is only marginally accountable from a financial perspective, not from a student success perspective. As a matter of fact student success is discouraged in order for school boards to maintain their funding. If a student is seen to be successful and progressing academically, then the supports that were in place to ensure that success in the first place are withdrawn, and the Ministry subsequently penalizes boards by removing the funding.

Our fears and concerns arise from the ISA 2,3 and SIP application process that school boards are required to follow in order to prove to the Ministry that they need funding to teach students with higher needs. Despite the promise that once the funding goes ‘live’ the process is over and we can forget about ISA, we are skeptical. As parents who have witnessed the harm to our sons and daughters, as a result of the derogatory deficit labeling that is required in order to meet the very negative profiles that the Ministry has developed for students of particular exceptionalities, we are offended and take great exception to the process. The documentation will remain on file permanently, and will precede students throughout their educational experiences and follow them beyond graduation – in effect it will prejudice our children from experiencing an academic education with their age-appropriate peers and compromise the respect that they deserve in being described for their strengths and talents not their deficits. How many of us would present the 3 things we don’t do well, instead of our strongest attributes when applying for a job? Why then should our children have to be presented in such a manner? Do teachers perceive these deficits as helpful in designing learning activities for the students in their classrooms? I would suggest that a teacher would benefit more from knowing what a student can do as opposed to what they can’t.

We would be remiss in not referring to the waste of financial and personnel resources on the part of school boards that has occurred over the past 3 years in assessing and documenting in order to ensure that students qualify for ISA funding. We know that millions of dollars have been spent by school boards to prepare and process the ISA files, and that the Ministry has also invested millions of dollars in training, administration and validation of the whole ISA process.

ISA language has become insidious within the educational system. The negative language is evident now in report cards, Individual Education Plans and any documentation that must be written for ‘ISA kids’. Not only is the language pervasive, but any reports are being written for the sole purpose of ISA, not for monitoring progress. ‘ISA kids’ become files that have a dollar value - $12,000 or $27,000. Most educators equate that dollar value to the support of an Educational Assistant. The money is not to be used specifically for the student file that generates the dollars, however, it is generally accepted that if you were approved as a ‘2 ‘or ‘3’ then you would have half or full time E.A. support.

Research has demonstrated that an inclusionary climate in a school has benefits for how teachers teach, and consequently, how all students learn. When funding is equated to the percentage of educational assistant time, it counteracts the trend that recognizes that the best investment of resources is to support and enhance the ability of teachers to respond to the diverse needs of all students…. With a funding formula that focuses on student deficits as eligibility criteria for special education, and on resources provided to individual students rather than to teachers, together with budget cuts that affect non-classroom staff such as resource teachers, the government has squarely pinned the responsibility for special learning needs on the students. Where is the accountability for successful learning outcomes? It is clearly not within the education system but with the students.

If you consider the profiles for students with intellectual disabilities within the eligibility criteria, you will note that such students seldom benefit from academic instruction, but rather have a program that focuses on life skills, social skills, self-control skills and basic literacy and numeracy skills, as appropriate. Pathology-based criteria inevitably create barriers to learning for students with disabilities. The inference then is that these students need not be in the mainstream if they are not being allowed to participate in the regular academic curriculum. There lies within our concern for the future of inclusive education and the hope of high learning expectations. A "medical model" is fundamentally unsuited to, and inappropriate for, an education system.

This funding model reflects an ideology that has roots in the eugenics movement. It is an attempt to provide a structural framework for the institutionalization of children with intellectual disabilities within the Ontario education system. In contents and emphasis it is little different from the processes used from 1912 onwards in Ontario to exclude those who were then called "defectives" and are now called "students with intellectual disabilities" from the company of their peers. U nder legislation passed because of pressure from eugenicists, the motivation was "to protect the purity of the white race". It is not clear what motivates the negative stereotyping present in this funding formula. It is unacceptable that in 2002 the ideology of the Ontario education system is still rooted in the misguided theories of the eugenics.

So, in essence, the Ministry has created a funding formula that is questionable in its accountability from a financial perspective and definitely from a student learning perspective. The Provincial Auditor correctly identified this as a huge issue when he examined the special education budget last year.

The ISA system is fundamentally flawed and cannot reach the goal assigned to it. Funding must be based on accountability for educational outcomes for students, or at least on accountability for appropriate process. ISA can never do that. The time and money wasted harming students through the ISA process must be re-allocated to supporting students and teachers in classrooms, so that the students ultimately get the benefit. ISA 2 and 3 must be stopped now, before the completion of cycle 4 this fall, before irreparable harm comes to more students with disabilities.

 

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