08 February 2005

Special Ed

In the 1960's, the federal government responded to a problem in American schools. Students who had their complete mental faculties, but who had a physical disability of some kind, were being denied entry at the school door. The monster that is now known as "special education" was created.

At its inception, SPED was not intended to provide services for students with severe mental and/or physical capabilities, such as teens whose "goal" for the entire year is to learn to sit up by themselves. Or students so violent that they do little more than beat school staff black and blue, along with threats to maim and kill their families. And yet, lawyers have made sure that these children get their entitlement to a "free and appropriate education...in the least restrictive environment."

And frankly, these children are getting it while "normal" kids do without.

In Washington, the state per pupil expenditure is around $9000 per year. If a student is in SPED, they receive about 25% more in funding. Why? Because some of these students get full-time aides. While 30+ regular education students are trying to meet the standards with the attentions of a single teacher in the classroom, most SPEDs are in small classes (<10) with 3 or more adults. The more severe the handicap(s), the more adults present.

Many states are facing a crisis in terms of funding special education. A recent article from the Jefferson City Post-Dispatch states that "Missouri could be forced to shell out as much as $23 million a year to educate just 1,200 special education students." Jeepers. Imagine what could happen if that sort of funding was made available to regular education teachers and schools in inner cities or rural areas.

SPED is a nasty problem that no one in politics wants to talk about. Who wants to look like the bad guy who told the kids on the short bus that they don't have someone to change their diapers this year? Who is going to staff SPED classrooms when it's just one teacher and 30 kids with differing needs?

The money available to teach kids to sit up or to not hit someone comes out of the classrooms where "normal" kids who can learn to read and become fully functional members of society sit. If I were a parent, I'd be irate. And soon, legislators are really going to have to take a long hard look at the laws they've put in place---and decide what they can do. But it ain't gonna be pretty.

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