Special Education

Research Report: Special Education

January 08, 2003 2 min read
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‘Bounty’ of Funds?

A new study links the rise in special education enrollment to the funding systems used by a majority of states.

Those states distribute special education money to school districts based on the number of special education students. Such arrangements, dubbed “bounty” systems by the report’s authors, create a financial enticement for schools to identify more and more students as needing special education, argues the report by the Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based think tank.

The authors compared the rates of growth in the special education population in those states with the rates of growth in states where districts receive a lump sum of special education money regardless of enrollment of such students.

A disproportionately higher growth rate of special education enrollment, the authors say, occurred in the past decade in states with “bounty” systems.

Special education enrollment nationwide grew from 10.6 percent of all students to 12.3 percent between 1991- 92 and 2000-01. During that time, special education enrollment grew from 10.6 percent to 12.6 percent in the 33 states (and the District of Columbia) that had bounty systems at that time. The enrollment level in the states with lump- sum systems grew from 10.5 percent to 11.5 percent.

The belief that simply giving more money to special education boosts the number of students thus designated is not new. But some advocates for special education have said that theory fails to consider more complex reasons. And, they argue, no incentive exists to incorrectly designate students for special education. Because special-needs students cost school districts big money, the thinking goes, any additional aid secured through an increased roster of special education students would go right back to the education of those students.

Two Republican leaders of the House Education and the Workforce Committee said Congress would make sure more money for special education was tied to reform.

The report “underscores the need for Congress to focus not simply on pumping money into the special education system, but also on how this money is used on behalf of children with special needs,” said the statement released by Reps. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the chairman of the committee, and Michael N. Castle of Delaware, who chairs the subcommittee on education reform. “Results, not just funding, must be our focus in renewing the [Indivduals with Disabilities Education Act].”

Congress is scheduled to take up the IDEA this year.

—Lisa Fine Goldstein

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