On July 9, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed the budget trailer bill, AB 130, into law. This legislation provides detail regarding uses of public funds for California schools. For a broader discussion of this legislation, please see our Alert here. This Alert focuses on AB 130 provisions that particularly affect students with disabilities, their parents, and special education professionals.

BUDGET

The new budget increases special education funding in several ways. AB 130 increases the amount of funding per unit of average daily attendance in each special education local plan area (SELPA) to be the greater of (i) $715 per unit of average daily attendance or (ii) the amount of funding per unit of average daily attendance the SELPA received in the 2020–21 fiscal year, as adjusted annually by a specified inflation factor. The budget also provides $450 million for learning recovery supports for students with disabilities related to adverse learning impacts as a result of the pandemic. The budget provides $100 million for dispute prevention and voluntary alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Eligible uses of the ADR funding include supporting early intervention to promote collaboration and positive relationships between families and schools, conducting voluntary ADR activities, and developing and implementing outreach plans to identify families who face challenges to participation in the special education process and whose students experienced significant disruption to their education as a result of the pandemic. Local educational agencies (LEAs) that receive financial support from their SELPA for ADR activities must submit a report to their SELPA by September 30, 2023.

INDEPENDENT STUDY

AB 130 amends section 51745 of the Education Code to state that “[f]or the 2021–22 school year only, the governing board of a school district or a county office of education shall offer independent study to meet the educational needs of pupils,” which may include, pursuant to new subd. (a)(6), “[i]ndividualized study for a pupil whose health would be put at risk by in-person instruction, as determined by the parent or guardian of the pupil.” For the 2021-22 school year, nearly all LEAs must make available independent study. (An LEA might be excluded from the requirement to offer independent study if doing so creates an “unreasonable fiscal burden,” and if the LEA “does not have the option to enter into an interdistrict transfer agreement or to contract with a county office of education to provide an independent study option” to parents who request or select it.) The bill does not alter the provision that a student eligible for an individualized education program (“IEP”) may participate in independent study only if their IEP provides for it.

AB 130 requires that LEAs create policies and procedures for independent study programs. Most LEAs have already adopted policies regarding independent study programs. However, independent study curriculum must now include live interaction and synchronous learning in varying amounts, depending on students’ grade levels. AB 130 requires LEAs to notify parents of options to enroll their children in in-person instruction or independent study. Additionally, AB 130 allows parents to request meetings with LEAs, which can include parents’ education advocate, to discuss what will be available to the student in independent study.

To be eligible for apportionments for independent study, and otherwise meet AB 130’s requirements, LEAs should take into account the following:

  1. LEAs must adopt and implement policies for independent study that reflect amended section 51747’s new requirements. These requirements include tiered reengagement strategies, metrics for satisfactory educational progress, curriculum aligned to standards, and a plan to transition pupils who wish to return to in-person instruction within five school days. (Ed. Code § 51747.)
  2. The independent study policy must also contain a statement detailing that written agreements must include the academic and other supports that will be provided to address individuals with exceptional needs in order to be consistent with the pupil’s IEP or Section 504 plan, and pupils requiring mental health supports. (Ed. Code § 51747(g)(7).)
  3. Independent study must provide for daily synchronous instruction for grades TK to 3; both daily live interaction and at least weekly synchronous instruction for grades 4 to 8; and at least weekly synchronous instruction for grades 9 to 12. (Ed. Code § 51747(e).) Live interaction and synchronous instruction may take place in-person or through internet or telephonic means. (Ed. Code § 51745.5.)
  4. Section 51745(c) continues to require that IEP-eligible students “shall not participate in independent study, unless the pupil’s [IEP] … specifically provides for that participation.” Keep in mind that students’ needs, and families’ circumstances, are unique, so requests for independent study should be considered on an individual basis. We recommend that LEAs discuss with their counsel how to efficiently and equitably discuss and address parent requests for independent study access for IEP-eligible students.

FAMILY EMPOWERMENT CENTERS

AB 130 authorizes grants to establish new Family Empowerment Centers on Disability in the regions in the state established under the Early Start Family Resource Centers that do not have a Family Empowerment Center on Disability. The legislation prioritizes “applicants that are able to ensure continuity of support for families transitioning from services under Part C to Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act…, either because the applicant operates a program of family support for parents of children with disabilities up to three years of age, or the applicant works in close partnership with an organization that does so, and shall take into consideration the capacity of applicants to carry out the activities specified in Section 56408.” (Ed. Code § 56402.)