- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Services for students with disabilities are among the many things Kansas education officials must solve amid the potential threat of school closures on July 1.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled last month that the Legislature failed to adequately fund the state’s poor public schools and gave the lawmakers until June 30 to address the issue. While many districts have cash reserves, the court’s opinion said that without an acceptable state funding system, schools “will be unable to operate.”

Some districts have responded by planning to end general summer school earlier than usual, but public schools are still federally mandated to provide free and appropriate special education to Kansas’ about 62,000 students with disabilities.

Some disability rights advocates are worried that the state could risk losing about $105 million in federal special education funding if summer programs for students with disabilities are cancelled.

Legislators will return to the Capitol for a special session devoted to school funding starting June 23. But some GOP legislators have said publicly that they’re not sure what the court will accept, although they echoed Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s commitment to keeping schools open.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, told the Associated Press that the state’s department of education could be liable for lawsuits if districts cancel special education services during the summer.

“Parents of special education students would no doubt sue the state government,” said Hensley, who taught special education for over 20 years.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , schools must evaluate children with disabilities and create an individual education plan for each student. Some education plans require that students attend an extended program during the summer to prevent regression; summer services vary depending on the individual, but can include physical therapy or vision impairment instruction.

Federal aid accounts for less than 20 percent of the state’s about $539 million overall special education funding, according to the education department. Deputy commissioner Brad Neuenswander said school districts should have enough money in cash reserves to continue special education programs during the summer.

“If for some reason the state treasurer was not able to distribute any kind of state aid, our plan is to continue to provide services to students that are receiving federal support,” Neuenswander said, adding that he is confident that the state will find a solution before the current fiscal year ends June 30.

Topeka Public Schools could be at risk of losing about $4 million in federal special education funding if it is unable to provide screening and evaluation for children with disabilities in July and August, according to spokeswoman Misty Kruger. And in Salina schools, the summer program for special education students that ends on July 7 could be affected by school closures, said public information director Jennifer Bradford-Vernon.

“Education has been so tumultuous,” said Lesli Girard, the program director for the special education advocacy group Families Together, Inc . “I think that there’s a lot of parents and educators that aren’t feeling very supported right now when it comes to education.”

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