Harold Pierce reports at The Bakersfield Californian:
In 2013, the Kern High School District had 3,173 students with Individualized Education Programs. It's projected to serve almost 1,000 more next year. The Bakersfield City School District saw 64 new autistic students last year, bringing the total number of its special ed students north of 3,100 — a 4 percent increase over the prior year.
“We’re drowning,” Roberta Joseph, a speech language therapist at Leo G. Pauly Elementary School said.
Some disabled students cost more to educate than others. But on average, KHSD paid about $19,170 to accommodate each of about 3,800 special education students last year. BCSD educated 3,146 students at $16,326 apiece.
“We don’t get to control the funding that comes in and we are obligated, and want, to provide the best services possible to meet student needs,” said Sandy Niday, KHSD’s Special Education Local Plan Area, or SELPA, director.
Next year, KHSD is projecting the state will cover just 31 percent of the cost to teach special ed students, and the federal government less than 10 percent. That leaves KHSD footing the rest of the $73 million bill, or about $44 million, according to Niday.
“If parents say we need a communication board and our response is that we don’t have access to it, that’s not OK,” Joseph said, explaining that it leaves the district vulnerable to lawsuits for straying from student individualized education plans. “I wish there were more funds.”
The fact is, “special education goes to the front of the line,” said KHSD trustee Mike Williams, expressing dissatisfaction with the way funding is planned for those students. “It’s taking up a bigger and bigger piece of the pie … and these kids need the help they’re getting. You’ve got your heart strings and you’ve got your purse strings.”
As bad as things are now, school officials fear they will get worse as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed a $113 million cut to federal spending on special education programs.