Category Archives: Money Special Education

Special Education, Budgets and Quality Education

Kathleen Rhodes of the Evansville Examiner reported on May 3, 2011 on a trend for America’s special education programs to be hit hard by budget shortfalls (http://www.examiner.com/evansville).  She refers to a study of The Council of Exceptional Children.  The effects are being seen in Indiana, and now cuts in personnel are contributing to higher and more demanding caseloads:

“With the budget cuts, special education teachers are having to carry the maximum caseload and are not being able to provide the best services so students can continue in the least restrictive environment.   A recent CEC study reported that special education teachers felt overwhelmed by paperwork, high caseloads, lack of administrative support, and a lack of resources. These factors, combined with the shortage of qualified special education teachers, often prevent special educators from providing quality instruction to their students.”

Here special education refers to school speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and school psychologists as well. 

The CEC national survey did in fact report hiring freezes, layoffs and high caseloads (http://www.cec.sped.org). We see how national economic problems and policy directly affect local districts like those in Indiana.  Best practice gets knocked around and notions of “quality education” are mentioned.

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Yet to a degree special educators have brought this problem on themselves.  Guessing, perhaps 25% of the children in U. S. special education programs, children contributing to direct reimbursement costs, do not belong there in the first place, because of overidentification problems and inadequate development of general education remedial programs. Nationwide, non-disabled minority children are suffering from special education placements.  Special education has been compared to a black hole.

On April 6, 2011, the Berksmont News (Pottstown, PA) published a Letter to the Editor by Tom Fautt  concerning budget issues at Kutztown schools.  School administrators wanted personnel funds but state data indicated too many children were in special education.  “This over identification of special education needs students is insulting to those students who have been properly identified as needing help. It is also damning evidence of a philosophy that advocates for more and more of your money to support programs that build staff and increase union dues.

Budget shortfalls get at the issue of what “quality education” really means!  Avoiding special education placement of non-disabled children improves quality and saves money. 

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Special Education Budget Reductions: A Case Example

Johnny J. Burnham, writing for the Thomaston Express (CT), reported on budget cuts made by the Thomaston Board of Education (March 3, 2011).  The reductions included “…one full-time and two part-time custodians, a 10-month secretary, a full-time special education paraprofessional and a special education teacher, according to Thomaston Superintendent Lynda Mitchell.”

A collaborative  learning program to help learning disability students was dropped though it was established last year.

The Superintendent had to cap the budget, as federal money and grant money were lost.  “Regardless, issues including the cost of employee health benefits, the rising cost of special education and the upkeep, insurance and energy to run the three buildings are beyond their control…”

Budget cuts to special education are never made in isolation.  School administrators work tirelessly on tradeoffs.  With special education there are the hazards of federal and state regulations governing required services.  Parents of special needs children must understand.  Other special education teachers must pick up the slack.  No one would envy a superintendent’s job under these circumstances.  Educators do believe in “quality education for all.”

Yet it is a blessing if some districts can see that a little more inclusion using regular education teachers can reduce the number of children placed in special education.  Learning disabled children are among the most vulnerable for mistaken placements in special education.

Special Education Parents Advocate on 2011 School Budget Cuts

In this spring of 2011 schools across the U. S. are holding critical budget meetings to cut expenses, according to trends seen in widespread newspaper reports.  Parents are now advocating for retaining funds for special education, while special educators pose questions about sustaining IEP commitments. 

We reported on Rosa’s Law, just one example of how inspired parents promote the common good for at-risk children in American’s 100,000 schools.  It is a myth that parents are difficult to deal with for school administrators.  Thousands upon thousands of IEP meetings go smoothly every year with good cooperation between parents and educators.  Parent values play a pivotal role in keeping the civil rights balance.  When necessary, they DO stand up for the FAPE rights of their children. 

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The Girl with a Pearl Earring , Johannes Vermeer.

The overall process of special education eligibility, however, is out of balance when it comes to admitting non-disabled minority children.  The overidentification problem nationwide is influenced by parents who want the best for their children but do not realize the risks up front during the eligibility determination process.

Roll back time to 1940 and we all see without parent advocacy schools would not be engaged in educational theory and practice to come up with best practice to help “struggling children.”  Our knowledge of what we call “education” has been advanced by increasing the range of learning styles and capabilities in American classrooms.  Differential teaching methods are a result of efforts to teach diverse learners.

Special Education Budget Cuts of 2011

A cursory survey of current press reports in February of 2011 reveals an increasing number of reports indicating local schools are cutting special education funds to meet their budget obligations.   The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided emergency funds to schools nationally to retain positions in special education, but those funds are running out.  Administrators are targeting special education for reductions, especially personnel. 

 The Winfield Daily Courier,  February 18, 2011, reported Kansas is facing budget cuts that might  impair long-term funding.     Lawmakers in Topeka face a dilemma on special education funding.  In a scramble to close this year’s budget gap, the House cut $26.4 million for special education.  The Senate, concerned over losing federal funds for special education, restored that money to the budget.   Now leaders of both bodies are trying to work out a compromise.”

Such reports point out the manner in which special education is regarded as a separate entity in schools, assuming neither children nor teachers in special education have anything to do with general education. 

In small schools there are teachers who split time between general education and special education.  For Title 1 programs school psychologists and speech-langauge pathologists provide support.  Reading specialists may work in both programs.

Learning disabled children and other categories of disabled children spend most of their time in the regular classroom.  Reducing personnel in special education is another way of saying regular education teachers will be returning to their traditional roles of serving all children within an age group.

Here again, as we have pointed before, money pushes best practice around when long-term solutions to help “struggling children” are needed.  From the federal level cascading downward to the states and through to local schools, the “budget process” trumps the rhetoric and the essence of “quality education.”

The budget process for government schools and universal design of learning for school improvement are principles of natural antithesis and political wrangling.

“Universal design is consistent with Response To Intervention approaches in the school setting.  It can be used to sidestep the artificial division between special education and general education.  Assessments can honor a gradation of abilities without categorization of any kind.”  (cf Universal Design for Special Education).

The average American citizen wonders why quality of life is suffering at the hands of government.   Even fine administrators shake their heads when wild budget machinations are in the air.