Not enough cash for Lambton's special needs students

Lambton Kent District School Board gets only a quarter of the funding needed from the province to educate complex needs students.

The Education Act requires school boards to provide special education programs and services to students who are identified as “exceptional pupils.” Under the Act, an exceptional pupil is a student who has been identified by a committee with behavioural, communicational, intellectual, physical or multiple diagnoses that requires a special education program. That often includes children on the autism spectrum.

Under provincial policies, school boards have to act when the students are young to identify their needs and meet them within the schools.

But that can be an expensive prospect and, according to board officials, it isn’t fully funded by the provincial government.

The Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) Chair Chris King sent a letter to the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce raising the funding disparity the Lambton Kent School Board is left to cover.

The school board received $27,679 per student from the Special Incidence Portion (SIP) funding in the 2019-20 school year, while it costs $106,366 to educate these high needs children, at a shortfall of $79,687.

The situation hasn’t become any better in the current school year. While the amount received from the province per student is now $28,823, expenses have raised to $111,092 with an additional $4,581 for bussing, leaving a shortfall of $86,870.

The issue came forward after a letter was received from the Durham District School Board at the Dec. 15 SEAC meeting. It was decided to have staff draft a letter, which would raise the concerns from the Lambton Kent District School Board, giving actual costs and highlighting the shortfall.

There are currently five students within Lambton Kent School District who are funded under special grants. This means there is a shortfall of $434,350, which is absorbed by the Grants for Student Needs.

The money received from the Grants for Students Needs is already stretched due to the considerable needs across the school system for other students with special education needs.

“Our SEAC realizes that insufficient funding puts the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students at risk of falling through the cracks since the programs and services that were developed to ensure their success are underfunded,” said King in the letter.

He asks the ministry of education conduct a thorough analysis so the SIP funding covers the actual costs of providing supports needed for students with complex needs.

The committee last wrote to the minister of education in March 2022 with the same issue.

Trustee Malinda Little presented the letter on Feb. 14 to the Lambton Kent School Board when she made her report about the SEAC.

, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent