Disability on the bounty

When the federal special education law went into effect in 1976, 8 percent of students were considered disabled; by 2000 it was over 13 percent. Nearly all the growth has come in the subjective “learning disability” category. About two-thirds of The Special Education Epidemic is a result of financial incentives to label more students as disabled, write Jay Greene and Greg Forster on Pajamas Media. Some officials call it “the bounty system.”

We compared the growth of special education in states with bounty funding to the growth in states that have reformed their funding systems to eliminate the bounty. We found that almost two-thirds of the special education enrollment growth was associated with the presence of financial incentives.

. . . under current law, any student who shows signs that he is capable of performing better in the classroom than he actually does can be labeled as learning disabled. And naturally, students can be performing behind their potential if they’ve had an inadequate education, or for other reasons.

The learning disability label often lowers expectations — and achievement.

Greene and Forster favor giving parents of special-ed students a voucher to spend at the public or private school of their choice. There’d be no incentive to label a borderline student as learning disabled.

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