If Special Education gets so much money, why do they always cry for more? Why are parents told in IEP meetings that certain things are not allowed, and the undertone of the discussion is money? There is a statute in the federal special education laws that says, no representative of the local education agency (LEA) should deny or recommend against services based on financial hardships for the district. However, the fact is, money is always a factor.
Are We Squandering Special Education Funds?
A Few Statistics
In a 2008 article, DukeTip reported that the high school dropout rate for academically gifted students is between 0.5-1% of students. This varies based on the eligibility criteria used.(What about Gifted Students Who Drop Out?)
According to the Office of Special Education Programs, Table 11.7, page 114, of this document by DisabilityCompendium shows that the dropout rate of students who were being served under IDEA in 2007-2008 was 24.5%.
Students with disabilities account for about 13% of the entire student population across the country, as stated by New America Foundation. According to statistics found by Pearson, The National Association of Gifted Children estimates that about 6% of the entire student population meets eligibility for gifted education programs.
Finally, another article by New America Foundation, quotes 2014 IDEA Part B, saying that states still receive the same amount of base funding as they did in 1999. That accounts for less than 15% of the state’s budget for educating students with disabilities.
Where Does The Money Go
Child Find – Reaches children ages 3 to school age, providing early intervention to help bridge the gap for students who have disabilities. Early intervention helps to lessen the effects of a child’s identified delay or disability.
Smaller class sizes – necessary because students with disabilities need more individual attention and assistance. This attention and assistance is necessary in more than just academics. It is often necessary in life skills, social skills, mental health, medical assistance, and more.
Teacher Pay – Special education pays their own teachers. These teachers may be carrying case loads of 50 or more students. Some of these students are not even being served by the teacher who is in charge of ensuring implementation of his or her IEP.
Teacher Training – While teachers have their education degree, it is up to the special education department to provide continuing education and training for their teachers. This comes in the form of school, district, and state level training, conferences, and other workshops. It also comes through college level courses that may or may not be reimbursed by the special education department.
Teacher Assistants – Many classes have students who are nonverbal, have severe behavioral or emotional needs, physical disabilities, medical needs, etc. Teacher assistants are responsible for helping the teacher implement the curriculum and the students’ IEPs. They are also responsible for changing diapers, wiping snotty noses, cleaning faces and hands, monitoring a child’s medical needs, and even changing medical equipment such as catheters.
Teacher Assistant Training – These individuals are given low pay and extreme job expectations. They are required to attend special training sessions to work with students with certain disabilities, training for providing medical care in the absence of a school nurse, and more.
School Nurses – Nurses are often required full time at schools with students who have certain medical conditions. Whether hired full time for one school, or split between different schools, nurses are paid out of special education funding.
Various Therapists – Speech/Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Mental Health Therapists – these individuals help children better access the curriculum. These therapists are highly trained, and there is an extreme shortage. They are often contracted through private companies and charge more than $100/hour per student. This means a private company that sends a speech therapist to see 4 students in a 30 minute session may be billing $200 for that time.
Transportation – Special Education students are often on a special education bus. This is necessary for a variety of reasons, including the lack of services in their home school zone and behavior or medical issues. Due to the extreme shortage of buses, many districts have to pay private transportation companies to transport students in cars or vans, some even have to contract with parents. The cost of running and maintaining buses, and the cost of transportation company contracts are astronomical. In 2000, the average cost of gas was $1.49, and it was estimated that the cost to run a bus was $1/mile. Today the average cost of gas is over $3.
Bus Drivers and Transportation Aides – These individuals are also paid out of special education funds. The aides are necessary for student safety and monitoring.
Facilities – Covered walkways, ramps, and elevators are all covered by special education funding.
Special Equipment – Sensory equipment, special lift chairs, walkers, wheelchairs, prostheses, hearing aids, etc
Assistive Technology – Classroom computers for students with disabilities and their teachers are paid for out of special education funding. Also, voice recognition devices, devices used to help nonverbal students communicate, audio visual equipment, and many more devices (check here for more assistive technology).
And Then What
Once all of those things are paid for, only then can we begin to look at other areas required to provide students with disabilities with a free, appropriate public education – a basic public education.
Students who are being screened or evaluated for special education services must go through a series of research based interventions before eligibility determination is required. These often require special curriculum or programs.
Students who are receiving special education services are also required to receive research based interventions.
Curriculum is not one size fits all. While a school uses a state adopted curriculum for their regular education students, that may not be what is needed for students with certain learning disabilities. Also, students may never benefit from a regular reading or math curriculum, therefore a life skills curriculum may be needed.
In addition to the regular academic curriculum, students with special needs often need social skills curriculum, behavior modification programs, and more.
Academically Gifted Education
In most school districts, Special Education funding also covers Academically Gifted programs. These students are included in the regular education classroom. While they may not be receiving what is considered ideal by many, they are receiving full access to the free, appropriate public education – a basic education.
These students are also sometimes eligible for dual exceptionality – meaning they have both an eligible disability and are academically gifted. In this case, they receive funding from both areas of the special education funding.
As with most things in life, education is neither fair, nor one size fits all. There are a lot of things to consider. The special education funding ends up as a benefit for all students through facilities, research that is carried over into the regular classroom, technology, and more. Yes, all students could benefit from more education funding and research. The fact is, though, that as funding continues to be cut and funds are being re-appropriated, we will continue to see cuts in all areas. Therefore, it is up to each group of parents – and all groups of parents – to work to raise awareness and funding for our students to receive what we feel is necessary to meet the needs educational needs of children in public schools.