In response to the chronic and acute shortage of approved residential placements for Illinois students with special needs, ISBE announced on Monday two steps to provide some, limited relief.

According to a letter from the ISBE General Counsel to the Illinois Council of School Attorneys Executive Committee, ISBE will reinstate its prior practice of reimbursing districts for room, board, and tuition at nonapproved residential schools when ordered by a hearing officer (after the district pays twice its per capita rate for tuition). This change is retroactive to February 2020 when the practice had been discontinued.

Critically, reimbursement is available only when the placement is ordered by a hearing officer, not when the placement is made by the IEP team or agreed to through a mediation or settlement agreement. So while the change is welcome in that it provides some relief to districts that have had hearing officer decisions order nonapproved placements, it does not allow districts to avoid the time and expense of a hearing when an appropriate, approved placement is not available for a student.

Additionally, the letter indicates that ISBE has recommended that the Illinois Purchased Care Review Board waive audit and/or cost report requirements for residential facilities when the number of students placed is fewer than 12 (rather than current threshold of six). The IPCRB will make a decision at its board meeting on February 1, 2022. ISBE is hopeful that this change will encourage more facilities to accept Illinois students.

Finally, the letter indicates that ISBE will be creating a working group to identify long term solutions to the residential placement issue, including statutory changes.

With respect to legislation, a bill has been proposed in the Senate to allow for a limited number of students to be placed in unapproved facilities. SB 2934 would only allow for five such placements annually. The bill provides that a student would be eligible for such placement if approved for residential services but not placed in a program within 60 days of the approval. The unapproved residential program under consideration would be evaluated by the Community and Residential Services Authority to ensure it meets the needs of the student and is appropriately licensed to accept students with similar needs. If the student and facility are determined eligible, ISBE would enter an individual agreement with identified facility for the student’s placement.

We will continue to monitor this bill as well as other efforts to expand the availability of residential programs for students who need that level of service. The current efforts move in the right direction, but more work is necessary to ensure that adequate supports and services are available both in the community and residentially for students with the greatest needs. Please contact our Special Education Team with any questions.