A Story of Intensive Support for South Carolina
South Carolina’s Office of Special Education Services (OSES) in the Department of Education engaged the Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting (CIFR) to provide intensive technical assistance to help it meet the fiscal requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). To build states’ capacity to collect, analyze, and report high-quality IDEA fiscal data, CIFR provides universal, targeted, and intensive technical assistance through on-site engagements, virtual communities of practice, numerous resources, a website, and a listserv for state educational agency staff with IDEA fiscal responsibilities.
When South Carolina first approached CIFR in 2015, its perceived shortfall in the high-stakes IDEA area called maintenance of state financial support, or MFS, was greater than $100 million. Under the MFS requirement, states must make available at least the same amount of state financial support from one year to the next for the education of children with disabilities. States that fail to maintain this support may see their federal IDEA grant reduced the same amount by which the state failed to meet the requirement.
Creating a Plan
When CIFR led a professional development session for OSES staff in the winter of 2016, it became clear that South Carolina needed to revise its MFS methodology. Ensuring that the state uses an accurate MFS methodology was crucial to achieving compliance and accurately determining any possible MFS shortfall.
OSES collaborated with CIFR to create a plan with objectives and intensive TA activities to improve the effectiveness of its operations and data collection. Over several months, CIFR reviewed the state’s calculation methodologies, and, as part of this process, OSES invited CIFR staff to join a meeting between state officials and the U.S. Department of Education to understand the federal government’s concerns with the state’s existing methodology. This conversation yielded insights into potential issues with data quality and state financial support that had been overlooked in earlier MFS calculations.
Through a series of work sessions, CIFR helped South Carolina identify all state-level funds made available for children with disabilities as well as data that were consistently available from year to year to support the calculations. This work required helping staff within the South Carolina Department of Education and other state agencies identify services—such as preschool, transportation, and assessment—provided to children with disabilities pursuant to Individualized Education Programs, how those services are funded, and how those funds are tracked.
CIFR entered the amounts of state financial support from the South Carolina Department of Education and other state agencies into its MFS Data Collection and Reporting Tool. As state staff proceeded to collect more accurate fiscal data, CIFR carefully documented the state’s calculations using the tool. South Carolina was ultimately able to cut its perceived MFS shortfall by almost half.
At the beginning of 2017, the state submitted its revised MFS methodology to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and in June OSEP notified the state that the methodology had been approved. Director John Payne wrote to CIFR:
This is a major step for our state as we can prayerfully now put ‘officially’ to rest this longstanding issue for our state.
In building a trusting and supportive relationship with South Carolina through trainings and individualized assistance, CIFR helped OSES resolve a longstanding problem and minimize financial implications. It increased state staff knowledge and capacity by introducing the Data Collection and Reporting Tool and facilitating the development of procedures that institutionalized the new MFS methodology. State staff continue to use the tool to track and forecast MFS data and to work with CIFR as other IDEA fiscal issues emerge (see Timeline).
CIFR and South Carolina’s next collaborative endeavor involves the allocation of IDEA Part B subgrants to local educational agencies. CIFR looks forward to building on its relationship with South Carolina to ensure accurate calculations and reporting.
We truly appreciate our continued work together and for all your work in helping South Carolina achieve major milestones to ensure the continued great work we are doing.