High-Cost Special Education Program: National Program Guidelines 2019 to 2020

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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 profound needs may be addressed within the funding and terms and conditions of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Elementary and Secondary Education Program.

Only high-cost special education needs ranging from severe to profound are eligible for funding under the HCSEP.

There are 2 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 2 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. But the students must get 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) according to the province of residence.

  • 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 an individual 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 or psychologist's report and are required to have an IEP that recognizes the broad range of their physical or 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 Nations 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 Nations. 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:

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 students IEPs 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. Funding recipients

A funding recipient means an individual or entity that has met the eligibility criteria of the program and has signed a funding agreement with ISC to deliver an initiative (program, service or activity).

5. Eligible recipients

Eligible recipients of the HCSEP funding are service providers such as:

For-Profit organizations, such as academic institutions, may be eligible for funding provided that the nature and intent of the activity:

Eligible recipients who can only provide special education indirect services are only eligible to receive funding to deliver those indirect services (consult Eligible expenditures).

6. Eligible participants (students)

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

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 ISC as settlement lands of the Indian band of which the student is a resident.

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.

7. 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 IEPs, and will also allow First Nations 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 the student needs. These activities must represent a minimum of 75% of the annual HCSEP resources (consult 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, regional First Nations organizations (or First Nations regional management organizations) 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 (consult Eligible expenditures).

8. Expenditures

8.1 Eligible expenditures

HCSEP programs and services are divided into 2 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:

  • costs associated with tuition (and tuition top ups) for special education students attending specialized and non-specialized school institutions (such as, band operated, federal, provincial, private or independent schools)
  • costs associated with in-school expertise as well as the development and monitoring of IEPs or other professional assessments using provincially recognized methods and techniques
  • salaries or benefits for special education teachers
  • salaries or benefits for individual teacher aide or paraprofessional workers
  • costs associated with educational psychological services
  • costs associated with counselling or social work services
  • costs associated with services provided by Elders
  • costs associated with speech or language services
  • costs associated with occupational therapy services
  • costs associated with physical therapy services
  • costs associated with instructional or resource materials
  • costs associated with assistive technologies or equipment purchases

The following list of adaptive hardware and software is an example of the types of assistive technologies and equipment 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 or eye-wear)
  • Tracker 2000 is a head mouse and bat keyboard
  • V-Cam is a head mounted zoom-lens (Jordy zoom or lens video eyewear)


  • DeskTalk PC speech output
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking continuous speech recognition
  • Duxbury Braille Translator
  • JAWS for Windows or 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)
  • 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:

  • costs associated with providing information services
  • costs associated with contracting professional high-cost special education support and professional assessment services
  • costs associated with professional development for professional accreditations
  • costs associated with other professional development (for example, workshops, conferences)
  • costs associated with accommodations (for example, room and board)
  • costs associated with accommodation needs, and may also include changes in how a student accesses information and demonstrates learning. These may include changes in the method of instruction, the curriculum and the environment
  • costs associated with transportation (for example, the transportation of severely disabled, special day-class pupils, and orthopedically impaired pupils who require a vehicle with a wheelchair lift, as specified in their IEP)
  • costs associated with emergency transportation

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:

  • clerical support
  • office supplies
  • the collection, maintenance, and reporting of data and information in accordance with program and financial reporting
  • costs associated with ensuring that personal information is appropriately managed and safeguarded during its collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposal

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.

8.2 Ineligible expenditures

Ineligible expenditures include, but are not limited to:

  • services for special education students whose needs are mild to moderate are expected to be addressed by ISC's Elementary and Secondary Education Program
  • enhanced programs and services for gifted students or enriched, subject-specific programming for students streamed into, for example, drama and the arts
  • expenditures for constructing, operating and maintaining facilities or purchasing vehicles are provided through ISC's Capital Facilities and Maintenance Program and cannot be charged to the HCSEP budget allocation
  • duplication of federal funding for a given activity (that is, receipt of funding from more than one federal source for the same activity)

9. Funding request process

Submission of funding requests

Deadline for submission of funding requests

May 15

Assessment Criteria

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 Nations management organization. A written response will be sent to applicants to confirm whether, or not, their funding request has been approved.

10. Maximum program contribution

The maximum amount payable for the purposes of the supplementary allocation of High-Cost Special Education Program is $115 million. The maximum amount payable per student per year will not exceed $155,000 and will depend on availability of funding and on high-cost special education needs defined in each student IEP. An exception to this limit may be made depending on the severity of the student's exceptionality, according to methods prescribed by the province of residence and provincial standards for funding eligibility to meet the student needs.

11. Funding

11.1 Maximum amount of funding

The maximum amount of funding to be provided to a funding recipient in a fiscal year is set out in the funding agreement signed by the funding recipient.

11.2 Funding approaches

Transfer payments to funding recipients can be made using different funding approaches, 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 Nations recipients to carry over funds, most funding approaches include, to different levels, carry over provisions and redirection of funds provisions.

This section will require adjustment to align program instructions with the new provisions included in the 2019 to 2020 national funding agreement models.

12. Reporting requirements and monitoring and oversight activities

The reporting requirements (program and financial reports) are listed in the recipient's funding agreement and details on these requirements are available in the Reporting Guide. 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.

All funding recipient reporting requirements are subject to monitoring and oversight activities to determine the accuracy of the information provided to ISC.

13. Accountability

ISC is committed to providing assistance to recipients in order for them to effectively carry out obligations set out in this document and funding agreements.

Funding recipients must deliver the programs in accordance with the provisions of their funding agreement and the program delivery requirements outlined in this document 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 this document.

14. Personal information

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 or policies that govern them up to the point that it is transferred to ISC.

15. Contact information

For further program information, please consult High-Cost Special Education Program.

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

You can also write to:
Education Branch
Indigenous Services Canada
10 rue Wellington
Gatineau QC K1A 0H4

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