The Asbury Park Press, in New Jersey, recently published an article that took a good, overall look at how school districts are struggling to reduce special education costs.
The article mentions all the major issues that are a part of the special education world now: vouchers, the dramatic rise in autism cases (New Jersey is definitely affected in this area, with one of the highest autism prevalence rates in the country), the No Child Left Behind Act and how the standards-based movement has affected special education, and, finally, the lack of data that could allow educators and parents determine if the money that we’re spending on special education is leading to the student outcomes that everyone wants to see.
Special education finance is a complicated, tangled issue. My blogging colleague Rick Hess has been writing some pointed articles on this issue, including one that suggests federal officials are reluctant to look realistically at the costs of special education, and a second post that follows up on the same topic.
I am not so bold as to joust with Rick, but in addition to looking at special education costs, I think we also need to take just as hard a look at special education results. Most students in special education have no cognitive disability that would prevent them from learning the same material as their general education peers—they have specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, or speech and language disabilities. Yet, the achievement gap between these special education students and their general education peers is persistent.
So, yes, these kids cost a lot, no doubt ... but is the answer just to cut costs, or could part of the answer be to shift how money is spent? Could effective spending on best practices possibly involve spending more on some students than we do now? If so, is it worth it, to bring these students up to grade level? I don’t know the answers, but results have to be part of the funding debate.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.