About 10 percent of California’s 6.3 million students have been classified as having a disability, which is less than the nationwide average of 13 percent, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. But the rates of classification vary considerably among districts, particularly among those students identified as having learning disabilities, which make up more than 40 percent of the total. Serving students with disabilities costs an average of $22,300, more than twice that of a mainstream student, according to a Legislative Analyst’s Office report, but most students with disabilities need much less costly services; the bulk of the expense goes to a small percentage of severely disabled students and those requiring residential facilities. Students with autism, now making up 10 percent of students with special needs, has been the fastest growing disability category.
A shortage of special education teachers has been a perennial concern of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which has recently focused on the type of training these teachers receive. In California, different credentialing standards have applied to special education and general academic teachers. In June, the Teacher Preparation Advisory Committee recommended that the commission reexamine this relationship, perhaps adding general education requirements for a special education credential and extra training in mild language disabilities for general teachers. A more blended approach could better prepare teachers to work with students who haven’t been coded with a disability but have learning issues while better preparing special education teachers for mainstream classes in the more rigorous Common Core standards.