Don’t blame special education for soaking up more money, write Jay Greene and Marcus Winters in the new issue of Education Next. Special ed spending has risen dramatically because all education spending has soared and many more students are in the program: 8.3 percent of all students were in special education in 1977; that rose to 13.7 percent by 2004. On a per student basis, special ed students get about the same percentage of school funding as in the past.
Furthermore, stories about pushy parents getting their children’s private school tuition paid for by taxpayers are wildly exaggerated, write Greene and Winters.
A popular riff on the idea that special education students are bleeding public school budgets blames private placements. A large number of mostly undeserving disabled students and their clever parents, critics allege, have managed to get public schools to pay for attendance at expensive private schools. Tales of the â€œgreedy needyâ€ â€” disabled students who receive unreasonably expensive services â€” appear regularly in the media.
. . . Only a very small fraction of disabled students are placed in private schools at public expense. And contrary to claims that this is increasingly common, the likelihood that disabled students will be placed in a private school has not grown in the last 15 years. While some of those private placements are indeed expensive, the overall cost of private placement nationwide constitutes a tiny portion of public school spending.
Students placed in private schools tend to have more serious disabilities than the average student and are more likely to be diagnosed with emotional problems. They’d be more expensive in regular schools and more likely to disrupt the education of other students.
The Supreme Court will hear a case on whether a disabled student must enroll in a public-school program and show that it’s failed before getting compensation for private-school tuition. The student’s father, a multimillionaire, was an MTV founder. He wants to set a precedent to help less affluent families.
Florida’s McKay vouchers, which let parents of special ed students decide if they prefer a private school, control costs because the voucher is tied to the public school’s average special ed spending, note Greene and Winters. The program also provides an incentive not to label students as disabled. Not surprisingly, parents like to have a choice, though most stay with their local public school.