Special Needs Education in Michigan


1. Media Artifact

Link to media artifact(s) giving background on the issue. Please list the title of the artifact(s) and then make the title(s) a link to the page in the MSC site where the artifact has been posted. You may include media artifacts made by other MSC members, if relevant, even if they are not authors of this proposal.


After doing research on the Common Core standards, we found that there is not enough research/evidence to prove whether Common Core is effective or not. We had trouble finding the root of the problem and decided it would be difficult to create potential solutions. Additionally, Jesse attended a school where her grade transitioned into Common Core standards, while Aimee attended a private school and had never heard of Common Core. 

2. Persona and POV statement


Persona name: Nancy Goldstein
Age: 40 years old
School/occupation: Preschool teacher with hopes of becoming an administrator 
Location: Ann Arbor 
Quote: “My family means everything to me. I will do whatever it takes to ensure my kids get what they deserve. ”
  • Nancy’s husband is a therapist at a public high school and works with many students who have special needs. Through this first-hand experience with these students, he is well aware that special education programs need improvements. 
  • Nancy is married and has one child in preschool and one child in middle school. Her youngest child is on the spectrum and is currently enrolled in a special education program at a mainstream preschool.
  • Nancy used to be a preschool teacher but now wants to transition to school administration. This career change was sparked by the lack of opportunities for children with special needs. She feels as if the program that her daughter is in is not getting enough funding and therefore is not providing her daughter with proper education. 
  • Nancy wants to use her experience as a preschool teacher as well as her experiences with her daughter to become a school administrator. This will allow for her to fix the various problems within the special education departments of school and ensure that these programs are receiving the proper amount of funding. 
  • Above all else, Nancy wants to make sure that all children, including special needs students, are receiving the proper and most effective form of education. Both special needs students and non-special needs students should have access to high-quality programs.
  • Nancy is determined to be proud of her career and the system she works for. Nancy truly believes that all students should receive some form of an individualized education that caters to their specific needs.


POV Statement:

  • User: Nancy, a loving mother to a special needs child and a dedicated preschool teacher who is sick of inequality within the educational system
  • Need: …needs a way to find a way to help her daughter receive the individualized education that she needs while also making sure the school is providing her with proper social interactions 
  • Insight: …because she wants her daughter and all other special needs students to have access to high-quality education, live a normal life, and receive a sufficient and equal education to non-special needs students that will allow for them to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom. 


3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.


  • To group special education students in new ways
    • Grouping them with mainstream students some days which would be done during activities such as gym, arts and crafts, lunchtime, music class, and other electives so they get to interact with students in mainstream classrooms in some aspects and so there is less isolation.
    • Ability grouping when they are in the special education room
      • Separating them based on ability groups
        • ​​This would allow observers to see how student interact with other students on their ability level 



  • Increase the ratio of teacher to student 
    • Stated in Criteria for Section 51a(6), which was just revised in July 2019 it states that for programs for students with a severe cognitive impairment the ratio is 1 teacher, 2 aides, and 12 students (roughly 1:4)
      • We feel this should be the case for all special needs students no matter how severe their impairments are and the more severe impairment students ratios be lowered to 1:1
        • Students who also have more severe individual needs should also be provided with a teacher's aide who can work with them one-on-one
          • This ensures that all students needs are met because they are getting the proper attention they need to be successful academically 
        • This would allow students with special needs to keep up more with mainstream students in the curriculum
        • The classrooms will not be overcrowded since special education classrooms usually consist of fewer students in the first place. 



Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Section 380.1751 of the Michigan Revised School Code

  • The Michigan Revised School Code says that school districts are supposed to deliver special education programs and services to allow each student to reach their maximum potential.
  • Section 380.1751 of the Michigan Revised School Code adds greats value to our proposal. Part of the school code clearly states that districts must deliver high-quality special education programs and services to students so that they can reach their maximum potential. Yet, due to the lack of funding and therefore lack of resources available, many school districts in Michigan are not upholding these standards for special needs students.

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

Because all public schools do not receive the same funding, it creates a problem for special needs education. Special education programs must meet all of the individual needs of students. Because of this individualization, it is important that special education programs are receiving the proper amount of funding in order for the money to be adequately distributed. Public schools in lower SES neighborhoods may not be receiving as much funding, therefore they may not have access to the same resources as other high SES neighborhoods. 

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

Jesse found an article and decided to write a provocation on it and sent it to Aimee because she found it extremely interesting and a topic we could possibly do our proposal on. After further research, we saw how little funding is truly allocated for special education programs. Jesse's mom is a preschool teacher and often finds it extremely difficult to get the proper resources for students who have special needs. She constantly finds it a struggle to try to get in contact with the state and have an aid arranged for a student with special needs. In addition, Aimee's mom used to be a special education teacher and saw first hand how difficult it was to cater to all of the individual needs of the students with the limited budget that they were provided with. 

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

We have been volunteering at the Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor. While volunteering, we were able to see firsthand how Michigan laws regarding special education affect their facility at the JCC. One of the students is on the spectrum so someone from the state was visiting that day to make sure he was receiving the proper attention/care needed to fit his special accommodations. After this experience, we realized that we were interested in further exploring special needs education in Michigan as we did not know that much about the laws/regulations surrounding it. This experience made us realize that more funding should we dedicated to special needs education so that all schools have the money to provide an equal education for special needs students. 

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:


After doing research on the Common Core standards, we found that there is not enough research/evidence to prove whether Common Core is effective or not. We had trouble finding the root of the problem and decided it would be difficult to create potential solutions. Additionally, Jesse attended a school where her grade transitioned into Common Core standards, while Aimee attended a private school and had never heard of Common Core. 



Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Jamie Keingarsky (Pre-school teacher)

  • "As a pre school teacher I have noticed a decline in being able to get approval for pre school children to receive services from the school district. For example, last year I had a student who clearly should have been in a special needs school or be approved for services in my school(OT or a Siet, etc...)After several phone calls to the district he was evaluated and all services were denied. They felt out school expectations were too high. While I realize some students reach milestones sooner than others, this child clearly was not just behind but needed assistance. He could not sit still at circle time, he would flap his arms constantly, start singing a song randomly, had speech issues which made it difficult for him to express his wants and needs and therefore he would resort to pushing and hitting just to name just of a few of his behaviors. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that it is becoming harder and harder to get approval for services through the districts and so many parents can not afford to hire someone privately."

CONSULTATION 2: Susan Horowitz (Assistant Director at the Jewish Community Center) 

  • We spoke with Susan Horowitz about her experience with special needs education. The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Ann Arbor is a private early childhood center but they receive all of their special needs services from the state and surrounding public schools. Susan shared with us that they have not had many problems obtaining these special needs services for their students. She did share that feels as if the students are not receiving these services as frequently as they should. For example, Susan explained that some students have aides or special services that come in a few times a week but she feels that if they had these services more often they would be more beneficial. In Susan's opinion, she does not feel that there is a problem getting these services approved for children but rather the problem is the number of resources, especially certified people, available in Michigan. Susan also shared that, oftentimes, parents do not agree with the school and think their child does not need special services. Although Susan believes the accessibility and availability of special needs education and services need improvement, she made a good point about the resistance from parents and their lack of approval for these programs. 

CONSULTATION 3: Jacqueline Mullen & Samuel Christensen (House Fiscal Agency Department of Education)

  • Due to the nonpartisan nature of their agency, they were unable to provide opinions regarding special education funding. However, they did provide us with a lot of relevant information about the School Aid Act that funds special education. 
  • In FY 2019-20, special education funding alone (not including at-risk, etc.) equals the second largest appropriation of the school aid budget: $1.1 billion state dollars and $431.0 million federal dollars. Local special education mills, levied by each ISD, will generate an estimated additional $1.1 billion in FY 2019-20 (this local revenue does not go through the state appropriations process).
  • In addition, they provided us with a summary of the various special education sections in the school aid budget
    • Sec. 51a – Appropriates total School Aid Fund (SAF) and Federal funding, which is then allocated in this section, Sec. 51c, Sec. 53a, Sec. 54, and Sec. 56 (Sec. 51d and Sec. 51f are appropriated separately). Includes allocations for: special education foundations, hold harmless payments, costs of administrative rule changes, and foundations for certain other pupils.
    • Sec. 51c – Allocates funding for costs associated with the Durant settlement that guarantees reimbursement of 28.6138% of total approved costs of special education services (not including transportation) and 70.4165% of total approved costs of special education transportation.
    • Sec. 51d – Appropriates other federal special education grants.
    • Sec. 51f – This section is new as of the FY 2019-20 budget. It appropriates an additional reimbursement of approved special education costs beyond the mandated reimbursement in Sec. 51c. In FY 2019-20, this section is estimated to reimburse an additional 2% of costs.
    • Sec. 53a – Allocates added costs of educating pupils in court-placed or DHHS-placed institutions or community settings.
    • Sec. 54 – Allocates reimbursements to ISDs that have pupils at the Michigan Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
    • Sec. 56 – Guarantees ISDs with lower taxable values per pupil a minimum level of revenue for each special education mill levied.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

Casey, our TC, left us very good and informative feedback on our proposal. Firstly, she critiqued our three solutions stating they may not be feasible. We realized we were lacking certain facts and numbers so we also did a lot more research to incorporate this information into our proposal. In regard to all three solutions, we agreed with Casey's concerns and went back and changed and/or added information in hopes to enhance our proposal. In addition, Casey stated that she thought we needed more numbers to be included in all of the solutions to further prove our points. We definitely agreed with this statement and decided to do a lot more research in regard to both the budget and funding for the grant. After speaking with Michael, we had worked to get a consultation that had a different perspective than our other two and we were very glad to learn that Casey felt the same way. We are still waiting to hear back from that consult, but we are eager to get another perspective on this issue. We also took Casey's advice in regard to our operative clauses in consideration and changed them to be more of an ask rather than a tell. Casey left us very good and useful feedback that we definitely used when revising our final draft of the proposal. 

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

We chose to consult two women who work closely with special needs students in the school setting. Both Jaime Keingarsky and Susan Horowitz work at private elementary schools. As a preschool teacher, Jaime gave us insight into the troubles she has personally had with special needs students. For example, she shared that she has found it very difficult to get approval for special needs services for students. We believe that this may be because there is a lack of funding as well as a lack of resources, such as teachers, for these special needs programs. Susan, the assistant direction at the Jewish Community Center n Ann Arbor, also had similar concerns to Jaime. Her main concern was that students are her school were not receiving these services as frequently as they should be. Because of these consultations, we knew that there must have been issues with the funding for these programs that is causing students to be denied these services or not getting enough of these services. This led us to do further research in the laws regarding special needs education and the funding being provided to schools in Michigan. We found that Section 380.1751 of the Michigan Revised School Code clearly states that schools district must deliver special education programs and services to allow each student to reach their maximum potential. Yet, after our consultations, we knew that this was not the case for many students in Michigan. Upon further research, we discovered that both the federal government and the state are not providing schools in Michigan with the proper funding for special needs education. The federal government only pays for 14% of special education funding, yet they are allowed to pay for up to 40% of it. We also found that the state is only reimbursing districts for 28% of their costs. This makes Michigan have one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country for special education. The remaining 11-12% is nonexistent. We proposed that the state increase the reimbursement rate to 40% because right now the local districts have to pay for 60% of the costs, even with federal and state funding. This increase from 28% to 40% would help relieve these districts. The money to increase the reimbursement rate to 40% would come from Governor Whitmer's new proposed budget for the next school year, which allocates nearly $120 million to special needs education. Our research also led us to discover that many schools in Michigan are forced to reallocate money from regular education services to help pay for special needs services due to the lack of funding. This creates a major issue because now mainstream classrooms are losing money. We knew that there had to be a way to better allocate the money for these schools that each program was receiving the proper funding. After doing some research, we learned that Gov. Whitmer proposed a budget that included $507 million for public education and intended for $120 million of it to be allocated towards special education needs. Gov. Whitmer has not explicitly said what this money would be used in these special education programs. We feel that this money will increase the state funding for special needs education in Michigan. This will give schools more access to resources which will allow them to help more children and make sure all of their needs are being met, following Section 380.1751 of the Michigan Revised School Code. We proposed that the student to teacher ratio should be around 1 to 4, which would be possible with this extra money. This money from Gov. Whitmer’s budget will also help even out the distribution of money between mainstream programs and special education programs so that schools do not have to reallocate this money themselves. We are still waiting for a reply from our third consultant, Professor Arsen. Professor Arsen is familiar with the legal side of this issue and we hope that he can provide us with a new perspective. His insight on the issue will help us understand if our proposals are feasible as he has more experience with the legal aspects of this issue. 



Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

When we were at school we would sit next to each other and do everything together. Now being in different states, we still FaceTime each other and did the rest of the proposal together. 



The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS....the state reimburses districts for 28% of their special education costs and the federal government only pays for 14% of special education funding. Proposal A does not allow districts in Michigan to raises taxes to cover additional special education costs. 

WHEREAS....many Michigan school districts are legally forced to reallocate funding for regular education to special education services which then hurts the regular education services 

WHEREAS....special needs education funding is based on the total population of students rather than just the number of special education students 

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


1. We propose that the state government reimburses Michigan school districts for 40% of their special education costs. Michigan's Department of Education has a Special Education Program Finance, which oversees all federal and state funding for special needs services in school. The Department of Education could help ensure that the state is reimbursing districts for the full 40% because the Program Finance is responsible for making sure that all reimbursements are effectively administered. That being said, this can help better regulate these rules/requirements. With that money, schools would not have to take funds away from regular education services. The money from this budget would ensure that the state is reimbursing districts for at least 40% of their special education costs, which would hopefully prevent schools from reallocating money from other sections, like mainstream classrooms, to special needs education.

2. Gov. Whitmer proposed a budget that included $507 million for public education and intended for $120 million of it to be allocated towards improving classroom resources for special education needs. This will increase the amount of state funding for special needs education in Michigan as well as help pay for any additional costs. This extra money is needed because districts are not allowed to raise the local taxes to help pay for these services. Additionally, right now, the state and federal governments only pay for at most 40% of the costs which means that local governments and taxpayers are paying for the remaining 60%. This money from Gov. Whitmer’s budget would help even out the distribution of where the money for special needs education comes from. This increases the budget of special education programs and frees up the money they were borrowing from regular education services, which allows for mainstream programs to have access to this money. We feel that it is important for part of the money from Governor Whitmer's budget to be dedicated to increasing the number of resources available to these special needs students, whether it be to train more special needs teachers or buy new technologies to help the students. 

3. Under the current model, some districts with higher property values are better able to make up the costs of special education, while others, often with a higher percentage of special education needs, are unable to raise funds in this way. Special education funding should be based on the number of special education students rather than the total population of students, or high property values, in order to ensure that special education students are receiving the proper funding for their needs. We support Gov. Whitmer's proposal to transition to a weighted funding system for schools. This system bases funding on individual student needs. For instance, if you a student slightly on the spectrum vs. extremely autistic, the students need different resources in order to receive a proper education.


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. What if basing the funding each school receives off the amount of special needs students reduces the overall funding of the school for special needs services? 

2. How can you properly assess the severity of each student’s disability? 

3. How can you ensure that the funding allocated to each district in Michigan is needed and used properly? 

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Our proposal is costly as we feel that special needs education programs are not receiving the funding that they need or deserve. Right now, Michigan, as a state, only reimburses districts for 28% of their costs, making  Michigan have one of the lowest reimbursement rates in the country for special education. Because of this, it is clear that the state government needs to allocate more money towards special needs programs. In a new budget, Gov. Whitmer has proposed allocating an extra $120 million towards special education programs in Michigan. Because she has not explicitly stated what this money will be used for, we feel that it could be used to increase the state's reimbursement rate, which can improve these programs drastically. With more money, these schools can hire more staff and obtain more resources to ensure that all special needs students are receiving the best education possible. From 2018-2019, Michigan also received the PDG B-5 grant, which helps increase preschool enrollment rates and makes it easier for students to transition into elementary school. At the end of 2019, Michigan received a three-year renewal for this grant, which provides the state with $13,413,552. The state has not created a concrete budget for the money that they are receiving from this grant. We feel that the money from this grant could help preschools improve their special needs programs for their students. 



These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.













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Total votes: 7