Special ed spending in tough times

Special-education spending can’t keep rising without crowding out spending for mainstream students, writes Rick Hess. In a follow-up post, he prints a principal’s point of view:

At our school, we spend about twice the money given to us by the government for special education students. That extra 100% comes directly from the general operating funds. For example, when a child enrolled in our school with a need for a one-on-one adult assistant, I had to cancel the after-school tutoring that served about 60 low-income students who were behind grade level in reading and math.Budgets are simple math. You get X dollars. If you have to spend $30,000 per year on an adult assistant for one child you must cut $30,000 from other programs. I get about $8000 to educate one child for an entire year. So this child is using up his money, and the money allotted for 3.5 additional children. When we have the annual meeting to discuss what support an individual special needs child should have, we are forbidden by law to discuss or take into account the cost of the services being discussed. That is crazy.

The federal mandates and the extra spending don’t guarantee students will learn, Hess adds.

An education consultant who’s also the mother of a special-needs child laments the money spent on meetings to discuss her child’s reading problem.  A voucher for a private school specializing in teaching “students with learning differences” would have been a lot cheaper and more effective, she writes.

Despite pandering to the special-ed lobby, Education Secretary Arne Duncan mentioned reining in special-ed spending in his “New Normal” speech, notes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

Oregon, among other states, has managed to trim its special education budget this year (maybe by intervening earlier when kids are struggling to read?). And yet doing so violates federal “maintenance of efforts” requirements. (Yes, Uncle Sam has actually made it illegal for states to handle sped more efficiently and thus lower spending.) So Oregon needs a waiver from the Secretary or else could lose millions in federal dollars; he should grant it, and send along a “thank-you” note to boot.

“Let’s talk bluntly about the laws, policies, and practices that can help educators spend limited resources in a way that’s fair to all our kids,” writes Hess.