Our View of the Legislature: Children’s Services Act

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As part of dLCV’s mission is to advocate for individuals with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment, we’ve been closely monitoring legislation throughout the 2021 sessions that seek to modify Children’s Services Act (CSA) funding. Currently, CSA money can only be used in private school settings, which includes children’s institutional treatment settings. The 2021 legislation put forth allows CSA money to be utilized across a variety of school settings and placements.

Many of these bills stem from a study conducted by Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in November of 2020. You can find that study here: http://jlarc.virginia.gov/pdfs/reports/Rpt541.pdf JLARC data analysis shows that private school rates and enrollment have increased significantly. JLARC additionally found that restricting the use of CSA funds can result in higher rates of private and institutional placements.

While dLCV acknowledges that some children may require the supports provided in a private school setting, we believe in supporting a continuum of services available to Virginia’s children by allowing funding to be applied also to public school settings.

Both the House and Senate put forth various bills regarding CSA, working hard to encompass JLARC’s recommendations. In the end, Senator Mason’s SB 1313, which encompassed other bills heard, passed both the Senate and the House almost unanimously. If approved by the Governor, this bill will go into effect July 1, 2021.

So, after all that work, what does this bill do? This bill would require that funds spent for special education services under the Children’s Services Act only be used on educational programs that are licensed by the Department of Education. The bill also amends the eligibility for state pool funds to include children and youth previously placed in approved private school educational programs for at least six months who will receive transitional services in a public school setting for no longer than 12 months.

Finally, the bill requires that the Secretary of Education establish a workgroup of stakeholders to develop a plan to transfer Children’s Services Act funds currently reserved for children requiring an educational placement in a private special education day school or residential facility to the Department of Education, and to develop a standardized reporting to enable comparison of private day school rates across the state.

Where do we look to ahead? dLCV hopes to participate in the workgroup of stakeholders that are looking to develop a plan of implementation and monitoring, as we know that localities vary widely in their implementation of CSA funds. dLCV would also advocate for a pilot program, as pitched by Senator Suetterlein in SB 1133, which ultimately failed to pass. Additionally, dLCV would like to see future legislation include funds to public schools past the 12 month transition period. Allowing funds past the 12 month mark would ultimately allow public schools to build more programs and increase resources, which will result in keeping children in their own locality, close to home, and in the least restrictive environment. Ultimately, dLCV is committed to monitoring CSA both in individual special education case advocacy and mediation and systemically to advocate for Virginia’s children with disabilities.