Search This Blog

Monday, December 13, 2010

Special Ed in GA

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Georgia's Department of Education is pouring millions into a program for the most emotionally disturbed students, but there is little evidence the special attention is helping, according to a state audit.

The state spent $64 million last year on the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, a special education program that serves students age 3-21 who have severe emotional or behavioral problems. Across the state, the program's 24 branches offer instruction in special classrooms at select schools or at off-site locations.

In a new report, state auditors raise concerns about the way the Department of Education is running the program. They say more needs to be done to track how these students – about 5,500 statewide – are progressing academically. And they want more accountability over how taxpayer money is spent on the 40-year-old program.

State education officials say the program is monitored in several ways and point out that federal and state laws as well as testing regulations apply to all special needs students, including those in the program. The branches are also overseen by local agencies, which help set the budgets and staffing.

“The program has made great strides in serving these students academically,” said Debbie Gay, who oversees the program for the Department of Education. “The highest priority is to help these kids reach graduation, to keep them in school and to provide that level of therapeutic support that allows them access to education.”

Among the audit’s findings:

• Students in the program had lower graduation rates and were less likely to go on to post-secondary education compared to the overall population of students with disabilities. Ten percent of high school students served by the program in 2004-05 graduated with a regular diploma by 2009.

• Auditors anticipated test results from this hard-to-teach population would be lower than the general population. They said, however, it is difficult to put scores into context, since the state didn’t collect test data from the program until 2009-2010. Their own research for test scores for 2008-2009 found that students in the program scored lower on state standardized tests in every subject compared to the overall population of students with disabilities.

• Several sites did not have psychologists and social workers, despite being allocated state funds for these positions. Ten program directors earned more than $100,000 a year, though the state provides only $50,336 for that position.