Brown’s May budget would shift AB 3632 responsibility to schools

After months of chaos and uncertainty surrounding mental health services for special education students, the governor's revised May budget would settle the issue by shifting more responsibilities to schools.

While many district officials and service providers said the idea is a good one that could save money and improve efficiency, there remain big questions over exactly how legislation would implement the changes.

On the surface - when you look at those three paragraphs in the governor's budget plan, it looks pretty straight forward," said Mary Samples, assistant superintendent at the Ventura County Special Education Local Plan Area. "But in reality there's a whole lot of stuff on the fringe that would have to be worked out - it's like everything else, the devil is in the details."

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed repealing a long-standing requirement on county mental health agencies to provide medical and intervention care to an estimated 20,000 special education students statewide.

The services and who pays for them, has been an issue of some doubt since former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed in October $133 million in funding for the purpose as well as the legislative mandate for performing the service.

The California Department of Education found money to keep the services this year, although the state's appellate court struck down a challenge to the governor's veto.

Meanwhile, majority Democrats in March appeared ready to restore the long-standing requirement on counties to provide the services as well as the money needed.

But Brown's revised May budget, released Monday, came as something of a surprise because it would shift the responsibility for providing the mental health services to schools - including out of home residential services.

To pay for the shift, the governor has proposed adding $221.8 million to the Proposition 98 guarantee. There would also be an additional $98.6 million in Proposition 63 dollars that would go to county mental health agencies on a one-time basis in 2011-12 to help with the transition.

As proposed, school districts can contract with counties to provide the care, find private providers, or use nonpublic agencies.

Some special education fiscal experts said that schools may benefit from the new arrangement because it will give them the resources to shape programs that work for their local communities.

"Ultimately, the responsibility for providing mental health services for students with disabilities has always been with the schools because of the mandates inherent in the IEP process," said Lee Funk, Director of Special Education for School Innovations & Advocacy.

"The governor's proposal will give the schools the money while still providing them with options. It makes perfect sense to give the sector responsible for carrying out a program the necessary authority to manage it."

The governor said in his budget plan that the delivery of services by mental health agencies lacked accountability and that putting schools back in charge would create a stronger connection between the services and the student outcomes.

To execute these changes, there are parts of the Education Code that will have to be revised.

There are codes which indicate who can find a child eligible for mental health services, Samples explained, as well as regulations which indicate that education should not pay for medically necessary services. "So how will that work? "What is going to be done with things like medication management," she asked. "Many of the students need this service, so how will that fit into this picture?"

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