Special needs students are often ignored in national education policy discussions, but are an important part of the American education system. In a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study titled, “Financing the Education of High-Need Students,” policy experts tackled the problem of consistently providing top-notch education to special needs students (which Fordham called “high-needs students”).
The study estimated that special-needs students cost about $100,000 or more per pupil, per school year. Moreover, every year more and more students are diagnosed with special-needs. The number of children diagnosed with varying degrees of autism quadrupled over the past decade. California saw a 45,000 increase in its autistic student body and Massachussetts enrolled an estimated 30,000 students with autism since 2003. As a result, California increased its special-needs budget by 57% to accommodate the increasing number of special-needs students.
Too often, administrators use poor spending procedures, which Fordham called “insufficient scales” of funding. Smaller charter schools and districts get less funding by these standards. As a result, if there were less than four special-needs students, the district sent their special-needs students to other districts as a kind of outsourcing. But, these placements cost up to $10,000 per student.
The authors suggested “cooperatives,” in which districts pool together to limit overhead costs and have a general fund to draw funding from. They then assign their specialized special-education staff to schools where they would be needed most and keep costs in-house. The staff was not tenured, but had pensions, and the costs were kept in-house to limit exorbitant expenses.
Thirty-two states have a “catastrophic insurance”-type fund, under which the districts with more special-needs students can receive funding. There were variations of the “catastrophic insurance” model: setting a percentage threshold of state payouts and sliding scale threshold. By setting a percentage threshold, it put a limit on how much money districts could ask states for. A problem was if the threshold was set too low, then districts would pay far more and if it was too high, the states would spend far too much money. With the sliding scale threshold, the state pays the districts if the cost of special-needs students rises. But, the caveat was that this funding scale removed efforts to “pad” diagnoses and numbers of special-needs students.
Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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