Autism Alliance of Michigan Completes Stakeholder Engagement Survey, Gleans Insight Into Special Education Climate

AAOM engaged Public Sector Consultants to administer survey

Data includes interview and small-group discussion responses from individuals with autism, advocates and subject matter experts representing K-12 organizations

The Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) partnered with Public Sector Consultants (PSC) – a research and public policy firm based in Lansing – to better understand the current climate of special education policy change and implementation in Michigan to advance its goal of catapulting the state into the top 10 for special education. PSC participated in interviews and group discussions with individuals with autism, parents of individuals with autism, and subject matter experts representing K-12 schools, labor and business, philanthropy and advocacy organizations. Survey respondents cited weak federal regulations, limited accountability and inadequate funding and resources for the K-12 education system as the most pressing barriers to student success.

“Our stakeholders are very clear about what they feel will help the state move toward adequate special education programming and funding,” said Colleen Allen, President & CEO, Autism Alliance of Michigan. “We hope that the Michigan Department of Education and state legislature will consider these findings and be open to increased partnership so that we can work together to improve outcomes for the state’s autism community.”

Weak Federal Oversight

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) codified the inherent right of children with disabilities to a public education designed and funded to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living at a federal level; however, special education stakeholders feel that implementation of the law within the state’s education system is ineffective due to a lack of consequences for schools that do not follow IDEA. Additionally, not every individual who writes special education policy understands how the system operates at district and school levels.

Limited Accountability for MDE

Our stakeholders underscored the need for the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) to provide more robust oversight and hold districts accountable for providing educational opportunities in accordance with IDEA. Survey respondents also asserted that MDE does not do a sufficient job on following up on student outcomes upon receiving complaints.

Inadequate Funding and Resources

The people we talked to noted that K-12 education in Michigan is, and has historically been underfunded, exacerbating the issue of inadequate special education implementation. In 2017, former Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley formed a Special Education Reform Task Force that compared to other states, Michigan was underfunding special education by more than $12,000 per full-time employee.

Key Recommendations

Our stakeholder analysis yielded several viable recommendations that could greatly improve special education policy throughout the state. Among other recommendations, interviewees suggested:

  • MDE should create specific policy guidance and support for schools in the resolution of state complaints corrective actions;
  • Evidence-based training for special education teachers; and
  • Individualized approach to education plans with increased expectations regarding outcomes for students with disabilities.

AAoM is now calling for increased collaboration from other entities that have a hand in reforming education so that Michigan may become a top-10 state for special education.