Superintendents, Money, Special Education and SLPs

Public policy in education – from federal to state to LEAs — revolves around money.  Superintendent are the chief administrators.  

Some facts come to light because of school board meetings, and negotiations with local unions.  However, much of it is secretive for many reason, including personnel privacy and employee sensitivities.  

Since 2008, the pressure is on to balance local school budgets according to set priorities.  One way to save money is to cut positions.  Local politics play a role.  Which is more important, an assistant golf coach, backup bus driver, or SLP assistant?

On January 19, 2011, Maggie Gordon, Staff Writer for the Stamford Advocate, that Stamford schools might be cutting back on special education resources.  “Much of the tightening occurred within the special education portion of the budget, where [administrator] Starr’s request proposed cutting 12 special education teacher positions, five social workers and four speech and language pathologists, as well as one special education administrator.”  Remaining teachers will have more children.  Music, art, drama, reading, math and athletics will be maintained. Parents and special education personnel are resisting the changes, calling them disproportional.  In such cases, IEP contracts still have to be met.

The deep background is administrators are forced into a false educational dichotomy of general education versus special education.  For years schools have accepted it because they gained extra money from putting non-disabled children into special education. During the boom times it helped to finance general education.

In the meantime administrators did little about the over-identification of special education pupils despite regulations and public debate.  They let Title 1 (Elementary and Secondary Education) programs languish while using the extra money. Superintendents begin to talk about inclusive education again when they need budget cuts.  It’s not about educational programs and evidence-based practice; it’s about balancing the budget and protecting general education programs.

Now without comment over half of American schools are trying RTI and other prevention programs to keep children out of special education.  Some of these efforts are window-dressing.  Schools have Title 1 programs which if operated as intended can do the job. 

History has created special education as a category set up and when budget cuts come the categories rule best practice.  IDEA 2004 as a legal entity creates internal roadblocks to imaginative programs using funds creatively.


Green and Foster (2002) wrote on the subject of money and special education:  “This report examines the effect state funding methods have on the number of students enrolled in special education. It finds that states with “bounty” funding systems provide financial incentives to schools to increase the identification of students with special needs by paying schools more for each additional student in special education. The authors find that those incentives are responsible for 62% of the increase in special education enrollment in those states over the past decade. Nationally, the report shows that this has led to roughly 390,000 children wrongly placed in special education programs at an annual cost of $2.3 billion. The authors also find that high-stakes testing, which has been suggested as an alternative culprit for the increase, has no significant effect on special education enrollment.”

Jay P. Greene, Ph.D.  Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and Greg Forster, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Effects of Funding Incentives on Special Education Enrollment (2002).


However, superintendents are between a rock and a hard place.  If they start putting more special needs children into the classrooms regular education teachers will complain to the union.  They have enjoyed the benefits of special education placement to get “hard-to-teach” children out of the classroom.  History teaches us schools continue to try to work around “struggling children” by artifice and avoidance.

A school district must formulate the right views of education and work toward economy and efficiency.  Some 30% of American school boards are not implementing RTI.  It allows for a continuum of educational principles and methods to help “struggling children” without putting them into special education. Special education personnel can also cross over and work in general education.  Superintendents have alternatives.

For the next five years it is too late!   Special education must pass through another panic stage until it comes full circle.




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