The federal government has decided the Vermont Agency of Education “needs intervention” regarding its handling of several special education issues.
The state announced late Tuesday that the federal Office of Special Education Programs had assigned Vermont the “needs intervention” status due to low scores for the state on “support for students with disabilities transitioning out of secondary education, length of time to resolve complaints involving students with disabilities, and performance on national assessments for students with disabilities,” as well as problems with data reporting regarding special education.
AOE spokesman Ted Fisher did not immediately respond to a call late Tuesday afternoon.
“This kind of took me a little bit by surprise, as it has others, I think,” said Rep. Larry Cupoli, R-Rutland, vice chairman of the House Committee on Education. “It’s a continuing, ongoing process that I know the agency of education here in Vermont is working hard to make sure the data is put in the system. ... It’s concerning to me because we have a great need for special education, particularly dealing with the poverty we have in this state and multiple other issues.”
According to AOE, “needs intervention” is the second most serious enforcement status used by the federal government, and is a step down from the “needs assistance” status, where the state sat previously. The upgrade was based on a review of the fiscal year ending in June 2019 and states if Vermont continues to need intervention for three consecutive years, it could face a loss of funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
“There’s 24 or 25 states that ‘need assistance,’” Cupoli said. “There’s three states that need intervention. Those are New York, the Virgin Islands and Vermont.”
Cupoli said he believes the data reporting issue was at the heart of the problem.
“We need to upgrade our data systems and our data infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve been talking about doing that for eight years. Getting all these districts and supervisory unions to enter data into the system — it works better for some than others.”
Cupoli said that while he thinks some of the issue is at the local level — school districts simply not getting on board with reporting requirements — he said he has also long believed that the Agency of Education lacks adequate staffing to achieve what the federal government demands.
For its part, AOE listed measures it has taken, including a campaign to improve data infrastructure, organizational steps at the agency level and working with federally funded “National Technical Assistance providers.”