In The Politics of Autism, I discuss special education. Some states do a reasonably good job, but Texas is not one of them.
Pennsylvania does not have a special education enrollment target — no state does, other than Texas — but it does fund special ed in an unusual way.
The state assumes that roughly 16 percent of students need special ed and funds all school districts at that rate, regardless of how many special ed kids they actually have.
The state's rationale for choosing that number was simple — it was the state average at the time, according to Casey Smith, an education department spokesman. But before implementing the system, officials also called in experts and hosted public forums across the state, Smith said.
That approach is far different than what took place in Texas, when a small group of officials set a benchmark well below the state average without consulting the public, the federal government or any researchers.
The Pennsylvania system is good because it does not incentivize either under-identification or over-identification, several experts said.
Pennsylvania law also is praised for requiring schools to respond to verbal requests from parents for special education evaluations, instead of only written requests.
As a result, about 17 percent of students receive special education, a 1.5 percentage point increase from 2004, according to the latest federal data.