Every school day, the boy, who has autism and doesn’t speak, came to the barren cell built only for him. Two adults spent all their time teaching him to communicate.
The price? $153,000 for a year of instruction, nearly 20 times what’s spent on a student without special needs. “The costs are staggering,” said Connie Hayes, superintendent of the public school district that built the classroom.
A decade ago, the boy would have been institutionalized. Today, he’s sent to public school. His education in Room 112 tells a larger story of a growing predicament confronting schools across Minnesota.
A sharp rise in students diagnosed with major disabilities is forcing many schools to take difficult and at times divisive new steps to tailor classrooms to the disabled students’ needs, no matter how expensive that gets.
Even as overall school enrollment declined over the past decade, the number of disabled students rose 14 percent, reaching 128,000. That includes a fivefold increase in students with autism.
Many of the state’s most psychologically troubled students also are being sent to school settings for the first time as mental health programs that once served them have been cut back or eliminated.
By law, state and federal budgets are supposed to cover about 90 percent of the cost of educating students with special needs.
But they are falling short, shifting much of the cost to local school districts. Spending on special education is soaring — it has risen 70 percent in Minnesota over the past decade to $1.8 billion this school yearThe story goes on to tell the story of John Glenn Middle School, which spent $88,000 to build a classroom for one boy with ASD, ADHD and severe behavior problems. In a telling phrase, the paper calls him "one of the most expensive students in Minnesota." The cost of special education creates conflicts, pitting ASD students and their parents against school districts and parents of nondisabled students on the other.
In other contexts as well, ASD people bear the label of "expensive."
- From a report on insurance in Oregon: "But the problem for the company now is that if other insurers don't also start offering coverage, Kaiser could end up attracting lots of expensive new customers with autism. That would drive up their costs."
- From a report on Montana: "He’s become the most expensive state client using a state program for individuals with developmental disabilities that provides community-based services to people.