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Special Education Hard Hit By Economy, Poll Finds


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Special educators say budget cuts are forcing larger class sizes, layoffs and other changes that compromise their ability to serve students with disabilities, according to a first-ever national survey.

In the poll of 701 special education administrators from 45 states, nearly all reported that they are experiencing or expect to see an “increased strain on the availability of services” for students with disabilities, according to the Council for Exceptional Children, a professional organization for special educators, which conducted the survey.

What’s more, over 90 percent of respondents said they anticipate taking on more students with smaller budgets and fewer resources.

“What we saw in the survey was very consistent with what we’ve heard from the field over the last few years: it is increasingly hard to provide services for students with disabilities,” says Kim Hymes, director of policy and advocacy for CEC. “Schools are struggling to figure out how to provide children with disabilities the best possible portfolio of services and supports with limited funds.”

The job is especially tough when it comes to special education students who are entitled to a free and appropriate education — no matter how costly — under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Hymes said.

Many respondents told CEC that federal economic stimulus funding provided temporary relief for their school districts, but the impact of tight local and state budgets will no doubt be felt as those extra federal dollars run out this year.

“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,” an Arkansas special education supervisor wrote.

Now, advocates are working to stave off budget cuts. In February, Congress considered chopping $557.7 million from special education, but the cut was never approved.

“The overall tone in the responses was very mournful,” Hymes says. “It is very heartbreaking for these educators to watch what’s going on with the state of funding and what it means for the implementation of IDEA.”

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Comments (5 Responses)

  1. cptamerica says:

    As a former teacher of children with behavioral needs, I observed that the tendency to marginalize special needs children and the programs that support them started with the passage of NCLB in 2002. Schools started receving a report card based on a poorly constructed and administered acheivement test which marked the end of any individualized approach to assessing progress established by IDEA. Over the past decade my colleagues and I noticed the gradual channeling of resources away from special education programs accompanied by a trend to push students out of self-contained classrooms back into their respective grade-level mainstream classrooms while forcing the mainstream teacher to take on the responsibility of teaching children who had previously received specialized small-group instruction. Much of this occurred before the recent economic downturn as evidenced by the numerous law suits involving the parents of special needs children not receiving the services written into their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). As with many other organizations and businesses that have used the excuse that the economy is the root of thier preexisting problems, education administraitors, school boards and state departments have blamed the economy for their used this convenient excuse to eliminate programs that support their most needy and vulnerable populations. If you think that educators are heartbroken – try to imagine how our special needs children and their families and communities are being effected.

  2. Excop says:

    I would love to see but know this will never happen. These life long political fat cats I perfer to call them “thieves” need to cut their salaries to help not only the children that so desperately depend on these services, but for all schools. I get sick to my stomach when I see these “elected people’s representatives” spew their dreck. They all “claim” to be working for us, REALLY?

  3. SusanFordKeller says:

    I need some clarification on the term “best.” Kim Hymes and a survey respondent both use the term in reference to services for special education students. A special ed. law consultant cautioned me that the “best” a school can offer can be quite different from what is “appropriate” for a child with a disability. It surprises me that these 2 professionals use “best” in lieu of “appropriate.” The terms are not interchangeable.

    This quote from the article is also problematic: “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,” an Arkansas special education supervisor wrote.

    Does this supervisor mean that the children are not getting a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment because of understaffing of teachers? If so, then Arkansas parents could use this statement in IEP negotiations or complaints to their state’s dept. of education.

  4. ldorsey1010 says:

    My son just recently was diagnosed with Autism and my daughter has been previously diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Reading this article disheartens me on the state of our Union. BUT it also fuels me to make it my life’s passion to advocate for my children with special needs and thereby to advocate for all children with special needs. As parents, we must be their voices! Autism DOES speak and all disabilities HAVE a voice!! Now, we just have to get our Nation to LISTEN and HEAR!!

  5. therose says:

    Parents of children with special needs would be wise to check the caseload numbers of the learning support teachers. Inclusion and the need to be in several classrooms during the day in addition to finding the time to work one-on-one with students and the staggering amount of progress monitoring is absolutely taking away and, at times, prohibiting best practices for the special education teacher. Administration is not much help; oftentimes, sped teachers are just given the caseload with no help or support from administration–just the expectation and demand that the job had better get done. I know of many sped teachers who have left their jobs and just shake their heads in disgust over the overwhelming, unrealistic expectations that are saddled upon teachers…to the students’ detriments.

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