Ten supervisory unions and districts have been selected for a study of special education that is intended to cut some costs and better serve students. Four of those chosen are newly formed unified union school districts under Act 46.
The plan is to review current methods against proven best practices and provide advice to schools that can be shared across the state.
The District Management Council, a consulting firm based in Massachusetts, will carry out the study.
“DMC’s mission is to help systems figure out how to provide high-quality care for students in the most cost-effective way possible,” said Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe in a statement. “What we learn from these systems, we hope to share with others that were not able to participate.”
The firm is expected to outline its recommendations in a report to the Legislature by October.
Vermont spends $294 million a year for special education and identifies 16 percent of the state’s students as needing services. A study of Vermont’s spending during the 2014-2015 school year found the state could have saved $140 million by changing the way it delivers special education. Allan Odden and Lawrence Picus who wrote that report.
The Picus study said new research shows that many struggling students can be helped with extra tutoring and other resources and can then return to the general education population. The authors highlighted the work of the District Management Council in the study.
The Milton and Hartford supervisory districts and the Franklin Northeast and Bennington-Rutland supervisory unions were the large entities selected to work with DMC. Each of them has an average daily student membership of 1,500 or more.
The unified union school districts of Addison Central, Essex Town-Essex Junction, Washington West and Orange Southwest also will take part.
The final two supervisory unions chosen are Orleans Central and Windham Central.
Funding for the study comes from state and federal money.
The House Education Committee last spring put $200,000 into a pilot plan in the special education bill so 10 supervisory unions and districts could participate. The Senate didn’t want to take that much money out of the education fund. A conference committee agreed to set aside $75,000 for the project. The Agency of Education was able to supplement that with $375,000 from the federal government.
The final version of the special education law, Act 148, instructed the agency to select at least three supervisory unions or districts with an average enrollment of 1,500 or more and three unified union school districts merged under Act 46 for the study. The education agency chose four of each and added two more for a total of 10.
The agency has characterized the program as “technical assistance” to areas that want to “figure out ways to organize resources more strategically,” according to spokesperson Haley Dover.
The agency will pay DMC $45,000 for each participating supervisory union or district, and the locality will pay $5,000. Education officials say grants are available to cover that cost if needed.
When the pilot project made it through both legislative chambers, Rep. Emily Long D-Newfane, predicted it would make a difference for the state. She said that “down the road we will look back and say, ‘This is what changed the paradigm for the way we deliver special education services in Vermont, and it is saving money.’”