NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Back in July, a photo of a young boy helping his blind classmate down the hall, went viral for all the right reasons. It was a snapshot of the good that special education programs can bring. But the moment almost didn't happen. "Despite having a documented case of legal blindness from a physician, the school system needed additional proof basically that braille instruction would be needed," said Stacy Cornwall, Nathaniel's mother.
Cornwall believes Metro Nashville Public Schools needed such detailed documents on her son Nathaniel because special education programs can be so costly. "I can only speak for my son but knowing what a fight we had to put up just to have braille, pre-braille made available to him, I can only imagine what other resources aren’t provided to kids, kids who are in need of them," said Cornwall.
Right now, Nathaniel is in Pre-K but eventually, he'll move on to elementary, middle and high schools. Just like any other parent, Cornwall wants to see her son succeed. But to do that, she's calling for major changes to how the state funds public schools. Federal grants provide some funding to districts for special education, but the state's funding formula does not provide funding for such programs, at least not directly. "Let’s start from the ground up in building a new funding model. And that’s where I think we should start — on the ground, in the schools with the teachers, the students and the parents. Understanding exactly how our funding model impacts them," said Cornwall.
She hopes the state will adopt a formula that takes individual needs into consideration so that the district can provide more snapshots of progress for Nathaniel. "I think it’s really easy to get caught up in funding ideals and politics and forget we’re talking about actual children," she said.
A spokesperson for MNPS released the following statement to NewsChannel 5:
While there is always room for additional investments for staff, programs, and support for our students, we leverage available local, state, and federal funding to maintain a lower special education teacher to student ratio than that identified in the BEP formula to ensure the needs of our students are met.
We would support additional funds being allocated through the BEP or other sources to further support students with exceptional needs, and hope that any overhaul of state funding looks at additional student needs (special education, economically disadvantaged, English learners, etc…) when creating an equitable funding formula.