As a Chief Financial Officer I am frustrated by uncontrollable Special Education expenses. In this post I discuss the two ways to cut the enormous cost of special education. This includes not only the expense of the out of district placements but the legal fees involved in defending the cases.
Special Education expenses represent a significant part of a school district’s total general operating budget. This is a very sensitive subject and most district’s choose to not give it the scrutiny it deserves. In these difficult economic times this is unfair to both the taxpayers and the students. There is little correlation between the outrageous spending and academic progress.
There are ways to save significant costs without sacrificing quality. The first thing we can do is to differentiate between insufficient learning and a true disability. For example, the Rennie Center of Education believes that reading is the core challenge for most special needs students. These students are classified as having a “specific learning disability”. However eighty percent of these so called “special need” students have difficulty reading. If you address the reading problem early on you won’t have nearly as many special education classifications. Special Education classifications stigmatize the student and must be addressed whenever possible.
There are many individuals involved with caring for a Special Education student. For example there are therapists, teachers and individual aides. Districts need to track the time these individuals spend with students, because the costs can be enormous and the value questionable. In fact, reducing para-professional support is advantageous in order for the student to become an independent adult.
In addition, general education leaders need to be more involved with the Special Education curriculum, especially in the areas of Math and Reading. In another example, the business office should oversee the finances of the Special Education department. In many districts, the Special Education department handles all of these specialized areas and they can clearly benefit from the support of these trained professionals.
Special Education expenses can be controlled and these ideas can easily be incorporated into a district with many positive results.