Report Claims Special Education Should be Cut to Save Taxpayer Money
We like to keep an eye out for articles that claim spending less money on special needs children is the best approach to improving their outcomes. The most interesting thing about this (unsigned) piece is that it doesn’t even pretend to compare different approaches to instruction in order to show which is more effective for the student; it just claims more money doesn’t lead to better outcomes. Then it says that we should cut sped funding. Read on:
IA study released Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has found that if high-spending public school districts reduced their special education staffing levels to align with the national median, the country could save $10 billion annually.
The study, authored by Managing Director at the District Management Council and former school superintendent Nathan Levenson, analyzed information — including staffing patterns and spending — from 1,411 public school districts representing 30 percent of the nation’s K-12 schoolchildren.
From there, Levenson’s team reduced the sample into 10 pairs of comparable districts in five states — Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas. In each pair, one district spent less on special education but boasted higher achievement levels, as measured by scores on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). On average, the higher-achieving districts within the pairs placed 25 percent more special education pupils at the proficient level, while their lower-achieving counterparts spent 22 percent more on special ed, when adjusted for total student enrollment.
Overall, the study determined that spending and staffing for special education varies considerably more than it does for regular education, and this wide variation primarily stems from differences in staffing levels among districts, even when total enrollments are held constant.
According to the study, the “vast majority” of special education spending in districts goes toward staff, which represents as much as 95 percent of total special ed costs in some locations, and rarely less than 70 percent. Some districts employ nearly three times more special ed teachers — per thousand students — than others, not to mention many districts employ additional paraprofessionals like teachers’ aides and specialists.
Ultimately, Levenson calculated that districts with above-average special education staffing would save over $10 billion a year collectively if they were to reduce their staff to keep with the national norm.
In order to improve special education quality and efficiency, the author maintains that districts should focus on hiring more effective teachers, instead of simply more personnel including teachers, specialists, aides, etc. He also rejects the notion that more spending equals higher academic achievement.
According to Levenson’s report, there are federal law barriers that prevent officials from making special education more cost effective. For instance, the “maintenance of effort” provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)prohibits districts from considering cost when selecting services and interventions provided under a disabled child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). As such, the costs are not shared with the staff making special education decisions, thereby impeding them from choosing the more efficient option.
Levenson outlines four additional policy recommendations for improving special education outcomes and efficiency — three at the federal/state level, and one at the local level.