Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the ratio of special educators to students for the median school district. It is 7.6 special education teachers for every 1,000 students.
A new analysis of the cost of special education concludes that by cutting the number of special education personnel in high-spending districts to the national median, the nation could save up to $10 billion a year and improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
Author Nathan Levenson, a former superintendent of the Arlington, Mass., schools, analyzed spending and staffing patterns in 43 percent of all school districts with at least 3,000 students, looking closely at how they spend money on students with disabilities.
Mr. Levenson found that the median district has 7.6 special education teachers for every 1,000 students. Based on the national average teacher’s salary of $54,800 plus 32 percent of salary for benefits, he calculates that districts could save $5.1 billion a year by reducing special education teaching staffs to the median. He came to a similar conclusion about paraprofessionals, estimating an annual savings of $2.3 billion.
In addition, Mr. Levenson, a managing director at the District Management Council, a school system consulting group based in Boston, used pairs of demographically similar districts in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas to suggest that districts that spend less on special education often produce better academic outcomes for special-needs students than their higher-spending counterparts.
In nine of the 10 pairs, while one set of districts spent up to 57 percent more on special education, the other set had up to 110 percent more students reach proficiency on state assessments. The pairs were picked to show their relationship, however.
The report was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in Seattle, which also provides grant support for Education Week, and by the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the September 12, 2012 edition of Education Week as Study Points to Savings in Special Ed. Staff Cuts