State withdraws ‘irresponsible’ emergency education law change

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An emergency change to state policies that would have required school districts to pay more for out-of-district special education programs was pulled early Thursday morning, less than a week after the proposal was announced.

School districts only pay special purpose schools for the days students attend. The rule change would have required school districts to pay for all days instruction was given, regardless of whether or not a student was present.

According to the Maine Department of Education, which proposed the change, the current funding structure is “causing these schools to be restricted or suspended, leaving some of Maine’s most important affected children without the educational placements to which they are entitled by law.”

The department argued that special purpose schools should not be penalized when a student is unable to attend, because the school must have staff and support available to the student every day of the school year. Online note.

The Department of Education published the memo on March 24, stating that because the change was necessary, the suspension period would only last 10 days, and no public hearing would take place.

The expected date for the adoption was April 10, which is when most school boards either approve or make final changes to their proposed budgets. If adopted, the new rule would have been effective immediately.

At a school committee meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Jake Langlais expressed significant concerns about the financial impact of the proposed rule change.

By his calculations, it would add between $800,000 and $1.5 million to Lewiston’s already limited budget.

School committee members are considering $4 million in cuts to help make up the $7.8 million shortfall from the initial $105.7 million spending plan.

“I don’t know how to do it,” Langley said. “This is an irresponsible amount of timing, the number doesn’t make sense. The cost of interruptions is not something even I could fathom last night.”

“(I learned about it) last night with a 10-day window is unimaginable,” he said. “It’s very real and very scary if they change this rule.”

He said other state directors shared similar sentiments.

Asked why the proposed change was being withdrawn, Communications Director Marcus Mroka wrote that the Education Ministry is collecting more data.

Langleys said he was concerned that the emergency law change could be brought forward again during this budget cycle.

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