Recently, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.
At The Atlantic, Laura McKenna writes:
Over the years, as a parent of a student with high-functioning autism who has been educated in three different public school districts, I have seen wide disparities in the quality of special-education programs. Sometimes my son has been offered a well-written IEP with rigorous, measurable goals and high expectations, staff with adequate training and support, and a clean classroom with windows; other times he has not. Keeping him in an excellent program has required an enormous amount of time and effort.
The quality of education has a huge impact on kids like my son. For children with more severe disabilities, simply being able to control troubling behaviors and learning a few words of speech improves their quality of life enormously. Clearly, Drew, the subject of this court case, benefitted enormously from his private school. A good education might give a child a chance at a future with, say, an assisted job at a supermarket and residence in a group home, rather than life in a depressing and expensive institution.
It’s clear that not all states are appropriately serving their students with disabilities. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Education Agency put a cap on the number of students who would receive special education services in 2004, thus denying help to tens of thousands of children, even those with Down syndrome. Some families relocated to other states to get help for their children.
At the same time, it’s undeniable that special-education programs are costly and provide few tangible benefits for school districts. School districts are rewarded for giving high-achieving kids, like my oldest son, a variety of AP and honors classes, summer SAT prep class, and a varsity track coach that gets the team into the state championships. Good students raise test scores, increase the ranking of the school, and keep property values high. Special-education students are red marks on the ledger.
If the courts do find that public schools are responsible for providing students with a quality special education, the next step is figuring out a funding model that’s fair. Both sides of this debate maintained that the federal government must increase its funding of special education to at least meet the 40 percent promised to the states by IDEA. Without added dollars, the politics of special education—which is already ugly at the local level—is slated to become even more fraught in the coming years.