Archived Story

Special education program’s future uncertain

Published 6:02pm Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hayden said PALS is funded mostly by state funds and partially by federal funds when available. Unlike several pre-K classes at CES that receive grant funding, PALS is not funded by grants.

According to state Sen. Cam Ward, the state budget for next year increased pre-K funding by more than $9 million that also can be used for programs like PALS.

However, board member Joe Mims pointed out that the $9 million could be divided among as many as 130 pre-K programs across the state depending on how many school systems request funding.

If 130 or more schools request funding for their programs, each school would received a small portion, which Mims said could be enough only to cover about one teacher unit for Chilton County’s program.

“The ultimate decision lies with the school board and the superintendent, but from the state end of it, we budgeted an additional $9 million this year,” Ward said.

Ward said the increase in pre-K funding from last year to this year could be as much as 40 percent.

“We increased funding for public education next year by $200 million,” Ward added. “It’s up to the county how much funding they use for the PALS program.”

In April, Ward gave the same budget numbers to a group of Chilton County parents that contacted him with concerns regarding the future of the PALS program.

Aaron and Ashley Ellison were among those parents and have since created a “Save Our PALS Program” group of fellow PALS supporters, several of whom attended the Board of Education meeting May 21.

Aaron Ellison addressed the board about continuing the PALS program at Jemison Elementary and keeping its structure the same regarding special needs students and non-special needs students sharing a classroom.

“I think our goal was to open the eyes of some of the board members as to the crucial role the program plays in the lives of our children, and I think that was accomplished,” Ellison said. “We want to thank the board members who did open up and show support for the program, and we hope to meet with the board members in the coming weeks to locate the exact funding.”

The Ellisons’ son is currently in the PALS program at JES.

Aaron Ellison said the program has helped his son, who was diagnosed with autism, develop social skills in a classroom setting with peers, both special needs and non-special needs students.

“When the state has allocated this amount of money for programs such as this, you have a hard time convincing me or any other parents that funding for the program isn’t there,” Ellison said. “PALS is helping these young special needs students to lay a foundation for their future education. That is building a foundation for future successful students once they reach the K–12 stage.”

Ellison said he thinks restructuring the program in any way, or eliminating it altogether, would compromise its effectiveness in helping special needs students in their educational and social development.

“It will not be cut out,” Hayden said about PALS. “If anything, I say it will be enhanced. People may be more satisfied with it when it’s all said and done.

“These students will be served and perhaps even better, but there will be changes.”

Hayden said changes that could be made to PALS include decreasing the number of typical students admitted into the program.

“That will free up more resources for our special students,” Hayden said. “It’s a great service to our special needs students. We’re required to serve students from age 3–21, and this has been a vehicle for that and will continue to be, regardless of what it’s called. The special needs students were served before this, and they’ll be served long after it.”

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