High-Cost Special Education Program - National Program Guidelines 2018-2019

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1. Introduction

The High-Cost Special Education Program (HCSEP) provides additional investments to recipients who provide services for students who ordinarily live on reserve and whose special education needs cannot be met within the current resources that are made available for the general student population.

Broadly speaking, special education needs students fall within a continuum of mild to moderate, moderate to severe and severe to profound.

Special education needs categorized as mild to moderate needs are expected to be addressed within the funding and terms and conditions of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Elementary/Secondary Education Program.

Only high-cost special education needs (ranging from moderate to profound) are eligible for funding under the High-Cost Special Education Program.

There are two types of approaches that are typically used in the school systems that help school administrators identify if a student has high-cost special education needs. These two approaches are sometimes combined:

  1. The intervention-based approach is a formula-based method that does not require formal assessments before intervention strategies are introduced. Nevertheless these students must undergo a formal assessment no later than the end of the following school year. Under this approach, teachers with the appropriate training are able to use and interpret assessment instruments and develop the necessary intervention measures to address the student's immediate needs while waiting for a more formal assessment. A student Individual Education Plan (IEP) should be initiated at this stage. The intervention-based approach is designed to provide immediate attention to the high-cost special education student by addressing the student's learning problems as soon as they are identified. This approach serves to mitigate some of the subsequent learning problems that may be experienced in later grades.

IEP: Individual Education Plan

An IEP can also be called an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) or an Individual Program Plan (IPP).

  • IEPs will vary depending on the educational jurisdiction.
  • A student who has been identified by a team of experts as having high cost special education needs must have an IEP in place, one that will map his or her progress during the school year.
  • The IEP will identify the curricular areas that will need to be modified or it will state whether the child requires an alternative curriculum which may be the case for students with severe to profound high-cost special education needs.

The IEP will also identify the accommodations and or any special educational services the child may need to reach their full potential.

  1. The assessment-based approach involves classifying student needs into recognized high-cost categories and providing a "per pupil" funding allocation to support individualized programming. Severe to profound high-cost special education needs based on permanent physical or intellectual exceptionalities require at least one psycho-educational assessment. These students are identified by a physician's/psychologist's report and are required to have an Individual Education Plan that recognizes the broad range of their physical/intellectual abilities and addresses specific educational, health, and personal care needs.

2. Objective

The objective of the HCSEP is to improve the educational achievement levels of First Nation students on reserve by providing for access to special education programs and services that are culturally sensitive and meet the provincial standards in the locality of the First Nation. The program works to enable students with high-cost special education needs to achieve their fullest potential, as well as increase the number of special needs students acquiring a high school diploma or a certificate of completion.

3. Expected Results

The expected results of this program are:

Note: Recognizing that students with high-cost special education needs may not achieve the same academic objectives as students without high-cost special education needs, the goals set out in student individual education plans are a measure of a student's ability to meet or exceed their educational goals, demonstrating progression towards a high school diploma or a certificate of completion.

4. Activities

In keeping with the trend among provincial education systems, HCSEP funding supports both direct and indirect services. This approach will maintain the requirement for formal assessments of students and the development of individual education plans (IEPs), and will also allow First Nation schools the flexibility to employ intervention strategies more quickly.

Activities funded under the program include:

Direct Services

Direct services are program activities such as classroom student intervention and counselling, focused directly on meeting student needs. These activities must represent a minimum of 75% of the annual HCSEP resources (See Section 7 for Eligible Expenditures).

Indirect Services

Indirect services refer to an array of supportive programs and activities focused on enhancing special education programming at schools, such as providing information services and professional development opportunities. These activities are often, but not necessarily, delivered by band-operated schools or Regional First Nation Organizations (may also be referred to as First Nation Regional Management Organizations [FNRMO]) and can benefit from aggregation by optimizing the use of resources for shared services.

These activities may represent a maximum of 25% of the annual HCSEP resources (See Section 7 for Eligible Expenditures).

5. Eligible Recipients

5.1 Eligible Recipients (Service Providers)

Eligible recipients of the HCSEP funding are:

  • band councils;
  • federal schools;
  • provincial ministries of education;
  • provincial school boards/districts;
  • private education institutions; or
  • organizations types which can be designated by band councils (band/settlements, tribal councils, education organizations, political/treaty organizations, public or private organizations engaged by or on behalf of First Nation bands)

Note: Eligible recipients who can only provide special education indirect services are only eligible to receive funding to deliver those indirect services (See Section 7 for Eligible Expenditures).

5.2 Eligible Participants (Students)

To qualify as an eligible participant, the following criteria must be met:

  • The student with exceptionalities is registered or is eligible to be registered on the nominal roll, i.e. is enrolled in and attending either a band-operated, federal, provincial, or a private/independent school that is recognized by the province as an elementary or secondary institution.
  • An Individual Education Plan (IEP) must be in place or be in the process of being created when a student has been identified by the school administration or a team of experts as having high-cost special education needs. The IEP must map the student progress during the school year. An IEP is also known as an Individual Learning Plan (ILP), an Individual Program Plan (IPP) or an equivalent plan according to the province of residence.
  • The student's age is from 4 to 21 years (or the age range eligible for elementary and secondary education support in the province of residence) on December 31 of the school year in which funding support is required
  • The student is ordinarily resident on reserve* (a student who is ordinarily resident on reserve lands that are leased is not eligible for funding unless that student is a registered Indian).

    *Ordinarily resident on reserve means that the student usually lives at a civic address on reserve, is a child in joint custody who lives on reserve most of the time, or is staying on reserve and has no usual home elsewhere. Students continue to be considered ordinarily resident on reserve if they return to live on reserve with their parents, guardians or maintainers during the year, even if they live elsewhere while attending school or working at a summer job. (In this context, reserves are deemed to include all land set aside by the federal government for the use and occupancy of an Indian band, along with all other Crown lands which are recognized by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) as settlement lands of the Indian band of which the student is a resident.)

Note: In the case of a child in the care of a Child and Family Services Agency, or in the care of the province, the residency of the child is determined by the residency of the guardian with whom the child is placed. A guardian is a person who assumes authority for the child through a legal guardianship agreement.

6. Funding Request Process

Submission of funding requests

Deadline for submission of funding requests

May 15

Assessment Criteria

Note: Meeting these criteria does not guarantee funding from the High-Cost Special Education Program. Funding is limited overall by total available funding both nationally and regionally.

Review and Approval of Funding Requests

The funding requests will be reviewed and approved by the ISC regional office or jointly by the ISC regional office and a First Nation management organization. A written response will be sent to applicants to confirm whether, or not, their funding request has been approved.

7. Eligible Expenditures

HCSEP programs and services are divided into two categories: Direct (First Level Services) and Indirect (Second Level Services).

Direct Services:

Direct services must represent a minimum of 75% of the annual HCSEP resources. The direct services HCSEP allocation is to be spent on high-cost student support services. The following is a list of eligible expenditures for direct services:

Assistive technologies and equipment purchases

The following list of Adaptive Hardware and Software is provided as an example of the types of tools that can be used in the classroom to assist the high cost special education needs students.


  • Audiocalc is a talking scientific calculator;
  • AudiSee is an audio-visual FM system used by oral-deaf or hard of hearing students (enhances understanding of speech and filters environmental noise);
  • Dream Writer Smart Keyboard is a portable keyboard with a built in word processor;
  • Franklin Language Master is a Merriam-Webster dictionary 300,000 word spell checker with visual and auditory feedback;
  • Hewlett Packard Scanner and Laser Jet Printer;
  • Juliet Braille Embosser is a Braille printer;
  • Kurzweil Personal Reader is a scan and text reading technology;
  • Magna Cam is a portable scanner and print magnifier (mini-screen/TV/eye-wear);
  • Tracker 2000 is a head mouse and bat keyboard; and
  • V-Cam is a head mounted zoom-lens (Jordy – zoom – lens video eyewear).


  • DeskTalk PC speech output;
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking continuous speech recognition;
  • Duxbury Braille Translator;
  • JAWS for Windows / DOS speech output synthesizer (screen reader);
  • Open Book Unbound OCR software, scan text and convert to E-text;
  • Text Help, Wordsmith & Inspiration (multi sensory computer software that assists reading fluency and enhances writing development for students with reading and written language difficulties); and
  • Zoom Text (print magnification screen reader).

Indirect Services:

Up to 25 percent of the HCSEP allocation may be spent on school activities and services that will improve special education programs for high-cost special education needs students. The following is a list of eligible expenditures for indirect services:


Administration Costs: Direct and indirect services funding may be used for administration support. Eligible administration costs include only the actual costs associated directly with administering HCSEP and must not exceed 10% of the sub-total amount requested before administration costs. The program's Data Collection Instrument (DCI) will automatically calculate the amount. Eligible administration costs include, but are not limited to:

Further distribution of funds by ISC's funding recipients: When a funding recipient further transfers, to a Third Party, funds that were received under this program, the 10% allowed for administration costs must be divided between the parties, as agreed to between the parties. The total administration costs retained by all parties must not exceed 10% of the sub-total amount requested before administration costs.

8. Ineligible Expenditures

Ineligible expenditures include, but are not limited to:

9. Maximum Program Contribution

The maximum contribution for high-cost special education services per student shall not exceed the costs in accordance with the educational components set out below:

Tuition Rate for Specialized Schools (e.g. Provincial School for the Deaf)

Tuition for Non-Specialized Schools

Accommodation for High-Cost Special Needs Students (includes room and board)

Transportation for High-Cost Special Needs Students

Note: Depending on the severity of the student's exceptionality, according to methods prescribed by the province of residence and provincial standards for funding eligibility, the maximum contribution may be increased by the salary of a teacher's aide (per student) over and above the instructional services tuition rate.

10. Funding

10.1 Funding approaches

Transfer payments to funding recipients can be made using Contribution funding of different types or using Grant funding, depending on the eligibility of the recipient and depending on the program, service or activity to be delivered. Your ISC regional officer can inform you about eligibility for these different funding approaches as well as of the delivery requirements related to each of them. The funding approach used to transfer the funds will be identified in the recipient's signed funding agreement.

Consistent with the Government of Canada's intention to provide additional flexibility to First Nation recipients to carry over funds, most funding approaches include, to different levels, carry over provisions and redirection of funds provisions. For details on the different levels of flexibility, see the Funding approaches page on ISC's website.

11. Monitoring and Accountability

Funding recipients must deliver the programs in accordance with the provisions of their funding agreement and the program delivery requirements outlined in these National Program Guidelines while also ensuring that the necessary management controls are in place to manage funding and monitor activities. Funding recipients are required to exercise due diligence when approving expenditures and must ensure that such expenditures are in accordance with the eligible expenditures set out in these National Program Guidelines.

ISC is committed to providing assistance to recipients in order for them to effectively carry out obligations under these National Program Guidelines and funding agreements. Regional offices and other departmental contacts are available to answer questions and provide guidance related to ISC programs and funding.

To ensure that program delivery requirements are being met, that funds are expended on the intended purposes and that ISC's accountability to Parliament is being met, activities including audits, evaluations, as well as desk and on-site compliance reviews will be conducted with all funding recipients.

  • The Department's collection and use of personal information and other records for the purposes of program compliance reviews will be limited to what is necessary to ensure program delivery requirements are met.
  • The Department is responsible for all information and records in its possession. The confidentiality of the information will be managed by ISC in accordance with the Privacy Act and other related policies on privacy. Recipients are responsible for the protection of personal information per the privacy legislation, regulations and/or policies that govern them up to the point that it is transferred to ISC.

12. Reporting Requirements

The reporting requirements (program and financial reporting) are listed in the recipient's funding agreement, and details on these requirements are available in the Reporting Guide. Recipients are responsible for ensuring that reporting requirements are met and reports are accurate and submitted on or before the established due dates. Recipients who have access to the ISC Services Portal can access the reporting forms by opening a session on the Portal. If you do not have access to the Portal, contact your regional office.

Recipients must report on all funds received and expended, including the use of unexpended funding they were allowed to retain to use in the following fiscal year.

13. Contact Information

For further program information, please visit the High-Cost Special Education Program page.

The regional offices coordinates can be found on the Regional Offices page.

You can also write to:

Education Branch
Indigenous Services Canada
10 Wellington Street

These National Program Guidelines can be consulted in the Education Programs – National Program Guidelines page of ISC's website and through the View Instructions button on the first page of this program's Data Collection Instrument (DCI).

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