Manitoba

Manitoba to review funding process for special needs students

The Manitoba government says it will review the application process and funding formula for students with special needs, following concerns raised by parents and the province's largest school division that funding was being cut this year.

Winnipeg mom worries support for special needs children is lacking in Manitoba

A Winnipeg mother says there's not enough help in the province for kids with special needs. 2:21

The Manitoba government says it will review the application process and funding formula for students with special needs, following concerns raised by parents and the province's largest school division that funding was being cut this year.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Education and Advanced Learning Minister Peter Bjornson said there will be a review of the special needs application funding process.

"Recently, concerns have been raised by school divisions regarding supports for students with special needs. Parents have also raised concerns about the application process, and we take those concerns seriously," his statement read in part.

"The minister committed today that the department will be working with school divisions to review the special needs application process and funding formula to see where there is room for improvement."

Among those with concerns is Joanna Byrnes, whose eight-year-old son Richard has autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She said he's a happy kid who loves to play video games, but needs a lot of support at home and at school.

"We all take ownership of supporting him and that's why the funding is also critical," she said.

Byrnes said her son receives funding for the services he needs through his school in the River East Transcona School Division in Winnipeg. But she had to wait more than a year just to get her son diagnosed, and she said her son is still waiting for certain programs.

"That's concerning because in the community we're seeing a tremendous backlog of kids with autism spectrum disorder. This is special needs funding so it's not just autism," Byrnes said, adding the journey hasn't been easy.

"I still grieve for him because, not for me, but for him, because I always wanted his life to be, I guess every parent want this, I wanted his life to be easy."

The province provides three different levels of funding for school divisions:

  • Level 1 is for kids that need extra support in the classroom, like access to a resource teacher and some counselling.
  • Level 2 and Level 3 funding is for kids whose needs are more critical. This could include an extra educational assistant in the classroom. 

The province's largest school division, the Winnipeg School Division, says funding for special needs is being cut this year by 8.2 per cent.

WSD board chair Mark Wasyliw said funding cuts mean more than 100 applications for funding will be denied.

"When we give an application to the province for special needs funding we believe that we've met the criteria. We don't give them frivolous applications," he said.

He said some students are getting denied because they aren't attending school 70 per cent of the time, which is part of the province's criteria to qualify for Level 2 funding.

"That may be unrealistic for the child. They may have extreme anxiety or they may have some other issues," Wasyliw said.

"We're saying these students need the help and the province disagrees. So we might have to look at how these decisions are made, or the criteria they used."

The WSD said it now has to come up with a plan to make sure these kids get the help they need. It also wants the province to review it's funding formula and criteria for eligibility. 

​The school division might have to make up for the loss by going through taxpayers, with a property tax increase this year. The division is proposing a 3.7 per cent increase but its budget has not yet been passed.

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