Special education costs: What do researchers say?

I wrote in  my column this week about the balancing act with budget cuts between special education programs and the general education classroom.

Each Tuesday, I crash my computer by 3 p.m. by overloading my web browser with tabs on research, studies, blogs and news articles. Here, I’ll share some more of what I found.

The concern among special education advocates over funding is palpable. But, the issue is not just over cuts because of budget shortfalls – advocacy groups also are calling for reforms of the current system.

Research finds that special education costs are going up and there’s some evidence of improved graduation rates, according to this paper by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

But, advocates are also saying that we can do better by implementing research-proven strategies. With budgets tightening everywhere, schools will need to do this with the restraints of current funding. One idea suggested to me by a reader today: Perhaps we could better train all teachers to address special education needs, since schools are increasingly putting students in inclusion classes.

There are more policy ideas in a report that looks at special education spending and student populations between 1996 and 2005. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute states it’s mission clearly, they “seek to help chart a different path, doing right by children with special needs while recognizing both that every youngster is special in some way and that the taxpayer’s pocket is not bottomless.”

Another good source for information was the Idea Money Watch site. Created to track the stimulus money meant to flow to special education programs, the site has blogs for every state that highlight special education stories and good summary data.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for parents and teachers, you can read about the Board of Regents actions on mandate relief for special education. And track their future agendas here.

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