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More on HB 2640

Our first post on this bill focused on changes in the Alt Ed funding formula (including the important caveat that no district will receive less than they have been receiving). This post covers other changes.

1. Three types of programs defined. Like the bill last year, HB 2640 defines three types of programs, BUT (and it's an important but) only 2 types are funded with Statewide Alternative Education funds. The 3 types are Academy programs (what most of you have), Specialy programs (those targeted toward specific subgroups of high-risk teens), and Targeted Support.  Targeted Support programs, which are designed for prevention and early intervention, are NOT to be funded with Alternative Education funds.

2. Changes to the 17 criteria.  Well, there will be 19 criteria instead of 17, but not that much has changed. The criteria have been reorganized a bit, and some things that were in other sections of law were moved and consolidated into the criteria. Here are the major things that have been changed (rather than just moved around):

  • "Small class size" has never been defined in the law; we've used a rule of thumb and evaluated programs based on their individual composition. This bill would put in hard numbers -- Academy programs will not be able to exceed 15 students per classroom teacher. (Credit recovery program options would be able to go to 20 students.)
  • The population for Academy and Specialty programs is change from grades 6-12 to grades 9-12. This is for a couple of reasons: (1) The legislature keeps requiring more services but providing less funding. This relieves districts of the requirement to provide Alt Ed to middle-school students. (2) There are very few alternative education programs that effectively serve middle-grade students. So, this change in law puts the money where the greatest need and greatest effectiveness are.
  • Two requirements are added to the intake and screening process, but they won't be a problem for most programs because they already do these things. What would have to be included? (1) a meeting with the student and parent/guardian, and (2) evidence that the program is not punitive in nature.
  • The due dates for your district Alternative Education Plans and budgets would change to July 1.
  • A new requirement to include initial and ongoing professional development that focuses on effective alternative education strategies. This requirement can be met by participating in SDE-sponsored events (such as the summer conferences and quarterly meetings).
  • The requirement to pay alternative education teachers 5% above their designated salary step remains, but there is language that permits districts (if they wish) to pay an additional 5% based on student progress.
  • The minimum length of time that a program has to operate each day is put in law, so it would be 4 hours instead of 4 hours and 12 minutes. If you run a 4-hour program, you must ensure that students have the opportunity to make substantial progress toward graduation -- this means you can't put students in a program that makes them fall behind (because there isn't any way for them to earn enough credits to stay on track to graduate). Think of it this way -- you can run a 4-hour program as long as there are real ways for most students to earn 6-7 credits.

Note: Changes to the 17 criteria will mean that our evaluation rubric (for next year) will have to change to match, since our rubric is based on the criteria. We will keep the same type of format, though.

3.  As noted in last week's post, the funding formula would change. Another change is that some of the funds would be reserved for grants to programs that can show their effectiveness. This would not be a big grant application; our discussions with the SDE indicate that they want a format that (1) can be easily completed by an Alternative Education director in any size school, and (2) lets programs show their effectivness in their own way. The idea is to reward programs that take high-risk kids and really help them, rather than those kids who will generate good stats. The size of the grants and the things they can be used for would be designated later, but we all agreed that the grants should be big enough to make a real difference for a program and that programs should have freedom to spend those funds on things they need.

So, that's the basics of the bill!  We think it's a good one, but it will only work if the Legislature appropriates the additional $3.5 million for Alternative Ed.  If you have questions or comments, post them here or call us at 800-687-5730.