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Special-Ed. Costs Estimated at $10 Billion in 1980-81

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Washington--School districts across the country spent an estimated $10 billion on the education of handicapped students last year, a total that reflected a per-pupil cost more than double that for children enrolled in regular programs.

In the 1977-78 school year, according to data collected for a new U.S. Department of Education (ed) study, the cost of educational and related services for special-education students averaged about $3,577 per child, compared to an average of $1,650 for each nonhandicapped child.

Since then, costs in elementary and secondary education nationwide have increased an estimated 37 percent, according to researchers from the Rand Corporation who conducted the study under a contract with the department. Its statistics, the researchers note in their study--"The Cost of Special Education"--represent the most comprehensive and up-to-date figures available on the subject.

'Special Schools'

Completed in November and released last month, the report confirms that the cost of educating severely handicapped students who attend "special schools" is generally high (an average of $5,352 in 1977-78), while the cost of serving speech-impaired students and those who temporarily receive home instruction ($2,228) is "fairly low."

The report also notes that the annual per-pupil expenditure varied widely depending on the handicapping condition, educational placement, age level, and location of the school district.

School districts spent an average of $2,253--or $603 more than the $1,650 spent on a nonhandicapped child--for each speech-impaired student, according to the report, while the added cost of serving a "functionally blind student" averaged $8,014 over and above the amount allocated for a student in a regular educational program.

Handicapped children who required "itinerant special teachers" were the second most expensive--$5,218--to serve, because of the "one-to-one" teaching involved. The researchers caution, however, that school districts should not consider "mainstreaming" students as a means of cutting costs because such placements are nearly as expensive as full-time special education (an average of $4,733 per mainstreamed student).

Mainstreamed Students

For those students who were mainstreamed into regular classes but who were provided with part-time special-education services, the cost averaged $4,709; educational plans involving special-education classes plus part-time regular classes cost an average of $4,345 per student, according to the report.

The range of costs for special-education programs was also analyzed by age level in the report. For pres-choolers with handicapping conditions, the researchers estimated that school districts spent an average of $3,526.

For elementary-school students the total expense was $3,267, and for secondary-school students it was $4,099.

During 1977, the report noted, more than $7 billion was spent nationwide on special education and such related services as counseling; speech-, occupational-, and physical-therapy programs; psychological and social services; and special vocational services.

"Assuming that both the cost of regular education per pupil and the cost of special education per pupil increased by the same 37-percent rate, then over $10 billion was spent nationwide in the 1980-81 school year for the added cost of special education," the report states. In 1981, the Rand researchers estimate, the average cost of educating a handicapped child was $4,898, $2,638 more than the $2,260 it cost to educate a nonhandicapped child.

Copies of the report can be obtained from the Research Projects Branch of the ed's Office of Special Education, 400 Maryland Avenue S.W., Room 3165, Washington, D.C. 20202.

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