County school system sees increases in special ed., English learner populations
Numbers expected to surpass current funding model
The numbers of English language learner (ELL) and special education students are increasing, and Charles County Public Schools must plan for the additional funding needed to educate these students.
Deputy Superintendent Amy Hollstein, Kimberly Watts, world languag- es specialist, and Arden Sotomayor, director of special education, gave a presentation to the school board on special populations during its Nov. 8 meeting.
Hollstein said that in the past five years the num- ber of special education students in the school sys- tem has increased by approximately 600 students.
“This year alone, we have had an approximately 200 student increase,” Hollstein said.
Costs range from $14,699 per student for those receiving special education services within the general education program to $42,296 per student for those with significant cognitive chal- lenges and health needs, Sotomayor said.
Sotomayor said that students in the former category have actually decreased slightly, but students needing more intensive services have increased significantly.
Hollstein said the increase appears to be due in large part to students in need of intensive services and already possessing individualized education plans, or IEPs, from other places relocating to Charles County.
“We need the public to understand that when a student shows up and enrolls and needs a resource we don’t currently have, we have to provide that,” Hollstein said. “We’re talking about children. We can’t just look at the bottom line.”
The number of ELL students has also increased, more than doubling over the past five years. While the percentage of ELL students continues to be low — 2 percent — com- pared with the rest of the state, which averages 7.6 percent, the number of Charles County ELL stu- dents is expected to increase approximately 19 percent per year, Watts said.
“Last school year, 2015 to ’16, the state of Mary- land identified Charles County as the county with the largest increase of ELL students in the state,” Hollstein said.
Part of the reason, Holl- stein said, is the proximity to Prince George’s County, which is 16.6 percent ELL students.
“Due to limited Title III grant funds for ser- vices and program cost increases, there will be a significant impact in general fund operating budget expenditures,” Watts said. “So, in the future, to continue to meet the needs of Title III compliance and the instructional goals of the Title III program, at minimum, we’ll need to allocate additional funding for programmatic and instructional support, as well as staffing. And although ELLs make up only 2 percent of our total student population … it continues to concern me, the growth potential we’ve seen over the past two years and our proximity to Prince George’s County.”
The school system currently spends approximately $41 million from the general fund to educate special education students, and approximately $6.5 million in restricted funds, such as grants, said Randy Sotomayor, assistant superintendent for business and finance.
“Over the past three years or four years, we’ve tried to absorb the costs of educating students with special needs, and we feel like with Mr. Sotomayor’s expertise, and Mr. Balides prior to him, that we’ve been able to do that,” Superintendent Kimberly Hill said. “But we’re at a point, because of those populations rising at a rapid pace, that we are no longer able to sustain the supports that are required to provide within the parameters of our current operating budget.”