PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island K-12 public school districts are planning to spend just 1.6% of $330 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding on students in special education despite the fact that roughly 90% of those students in 3rd grade failed state standardized tests, according to a R.I. Kids Count analysis of district spending plans submitted to the R.I. Department of Education.
More than 21,000 — or about 16% — of all R.I. K-12 students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Target 12 reviewed district applications for the ARPA funds and found they had to explain in three different sections how they would “prioritize” “differently abled students” with the federal dollars, which includes students with IEPs. RICAS scores in 2021 show for 3rd graders with an IEP, only 12% in ELA and 9% in math met or exceeded expectations.
Despite these factors, the plans show programs specifically for students in special education are getting just $5.4 million, or 1.6% of the total.
“The RICAS are devastating for our students with IEPs,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, senior policy analyst at R.I. Kids Count. “Absolutely devastating.”
“We should all be appalled by those numbers and also motivated to do something differently, and to do so relentlessly,” she added.
Michael Green, whose son Silas attends Norwood Elementary School in Warwick, told Target 12 Silas started school a few years ago already behind because he needed multiple surgeries for a congenital heart defect. He said Silas has an IEP because he has ADHD and other health concerns.
“So it’s really important for him to be in school and getting his educational services on a regular basis,” Green said. “Once you start dealing with the administration, it just gets really difficult.”
Green said constant fights with the school administration for not following Silas’ IEP have led to Silas falling even further behind in school.
“It’s not fair for anyone to put anything extra in his way,” Green said.
Warwick Schools’ ARPA spending plan submitted to RIDE in March said the district’s math RICAS numbers are even worse than the statewide numbers, writing “2 percent of students with IEPs more or exceeded expectations.”
Warwick Superintendent Lynn Dambruch said in a statement to Target 12 that the district is focused on all students improving their RICAS scores and said low scores for students with IEPs are a statewide issue. She said ARPA dollars allowed the district to hire additional social workers and building aides, who will work in part with students in special education.
Rachel Marsh, whose son and daughter have IEPs and attend South Kingstown Schools, said getting her middle schoolers the services they need hasn’t been easy. She gave the example of her son, who she said had an IEP throughout elementary school before the school took it away at the beginning of the pandemic.
“They have to fail to get the services, so he wasn’t doing bad enough at the time they did the testing,” Marsh said. “And then once they took away those supports, he’s just struggling big time.”
“We’re going to make sure that you’re just passing and then we’re going to take it away, and good luck,” she added.
The statewide special education system sets up students and families to fail, she said, and as a result, she turned to The ARC Rhode Island for help, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The ARC state director Joanna Scocchi agreed with Marsh.
“We have to do something,” she said. “Our children are failing. Our children can’t read.”
South Kingstown Superintendent Mark Prince did not respond to multiple requests for comment.