It can be an imposing challenge to meet the ever-growing demands of special education. The steady increase nationwide in students with individualized education programs (IEPs), partly because of the rise in autism, is juxtaposed with increasing costs and often insufficient funding.
New Jersey got federal approval to cut $25.7 million in special education funding for the past school year, and some districts have felt the pressure grow significantly on this portion of their budgets for years. A 2007 study by the New Jersey School Board Association of the 2005 fiscal year revealed the federal and state funding gaps in New Jersey special education as costs and needs continue to rise, and the consequential financial burden special ed is putting on local school districts. That report showed that federal aid to New Jersey for special ed covered only 9 percent of the costs; initially, at the outset of IDEA, the federal government intended to pay 40 percent of special education costs for states. But many states like New Jersey, according toUnderstandingSpecialEducation.com, have seen the fed percentage of the pie shrink to less than 15 percent. The fed changed the cost formula in the 1990s, from an amount per student with disabilities to one based on three factors: a base amount, a census factor and poverty percentage....
Meanwhile, federal mandates for inclusion and monitoring by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Special Education compel school districts to fit most IEP students into the regular classroom for the majority of the school day. This often requires sweeping staff development and alternative instructional models, such as co-teaching or an in-class supplemental resource/special ed teacher, all of which cost money to implement.
But the financial incentive there is that it costs less to educate IEP students in the home district than it does for the district to pay for special services at a private school.
But there is some positive news as well:
As for postsecondary transition incomes, the most recent data, for 2008-09, from the Department of Education show that 84 percent of IEP students no longer in secondary school at Rancocas Valley were competitively employed or enrolled in a postsecondary school within a year of leaving high school. That exceeded the state target of 80 percent. Lenape showed an 89 percent success rate.
“Early in my career, there were a lot of pullout programs and special classes, and kids did get labeled,” Moskalski said. “I think one of the good purposes of inclusion is if a (special ed) kid can be taught and helped in a regular classroom, then that helps eliminate those distinctions.
“We observe a lot of classes. I may know going in that there are three or four kids in a class who have an IEP. Can I pick those kids out? Most of the time I can’t, and that’s good.”
“We’re now addressing students that were never addressed before,” Myers added. “Students that otherwise would’ve been a burden on society are now productive members of society. There’s an economic comeback from that.”