The Shroud on Special Ed
Why are costs rising while the number of students decreases?
With special ed comprising more than 20 percent of education spending, and 40 percent of new funding going to special ed since 1996, there needs to be more clarity about how and where this money is being spent, according to Shifting Trends in Special Education, a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The report found a wide variance in how states have classified special education students over the past decade, as well as the number of personnel states report employing to work with these students.
For instance, while nationally, the number of special ed students has declined since 2004-05, 27 states have actually seen an increase in the percentage of students designated as special ed. New Hampshire reports a ratio of 320 special ed professionals per 1,000 students, while Mississippi claims a much smaller 38. The study's authors say more data is needed to explain these disparities, as well as the national decrease in special ed students, specifically the decrease in students designated with specific learning disabilities. The Fordham Institute researchers surmise that this particular decrease may be owed to the increase in autism diagnoses and the rise of RTI (Response to Intervention), but also note that the category of specific learning disabilities is difficult to define and therefore the most prone to human error. "America needs to approach special education with greater creativity and flexibility," the report concludes. "Instead of engaging in polarizing discussions about whether to mainstream students versus serve them in pull-out settings ... let's focus on how to differentiate learning for all students."