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Friday, August 20, 2010

Special Ed in CA

The Sacramento Bee reports:

Special-needs students in California are heading back to their neighborhood schools' classrooms as districts look to cut costs and revisit how to improve their learning environment.

As students are redirected from costly independent schools to their local public school districts, officials say, they will be able to save millions of dollars.

For the program to work, however, special education teachers say the districts have to do a better job of identifying the needs of these students at an earlier age.

Ed Amundson, a special education teacher at McClatchy High School in Sacramento, said having special-needs students in general classes is a good thing, but it isn't for everyone.

Amundson supports bringing special-needs students back to the Sacramento City Unified School District."But that means we need to develop the programs to serve those kids," he said. "If you do it correctly, you have to commit a lot of time and money."

This semester, Sacramento City Unified is bringing back 69 special-needs students. Elk Grove Unified is returning 70 to 80 students – mostly emotionally disturbed and autistic children – when school resumes today.

"This is about having all of our students served in our communities," said Becky Bryant, director of special education services at Sacramento City Unified. "It will be a cost savings, but we are doing it because we are doing an effective job."

On average, Bryant estimated, the district pays $35,000 annually for one special-needs student to attend an independent school, which educators refer to as a nonpublic school. The district has 357 special-needs students at nonpublic schools.

The average cost of educating a special-needs student in house is about $17,000, Bryant said.

The paper editorializes:

The Sacramento City Unified district, for example, currently has 5,632 students diagnosed with special needs (about 12 percent of total enrollment). Of those, 357 are in specialized private schools – most have been diagnosed with emotional disturbance (149) or autism (131). The cost is nearly $12.5 million a year.

Could some of those students be better served in the regular public school environment and at lower cost?

It is worth finding out. The district this year has worked with parents to redirect 69 students in private placement back to the public schools. The majority are students with autism (43) or emotional disturbance (16).

According to the UC Davis MIND Institute, 30 percent to 45 percent of individuals with autism are high functioning, and most attend schools where they spend part of their time in the classroom with typically developing children. This is worth pursuing.