By Anne Dachel
While California politicians focus on removing vaccination rights from healthy citizens, its schools face unheard of budget pressures from ever mounting special education costs.
On May 12 the Los Angeles Times reported that local school districts were “hitting the panic button” over costs despite a huge 21% increase in the state’s special education budget.
Reporter John Myers pointed to “the rapid growth in expenses for special education.” He wrote, “More children are qualifying for additional services, particularly those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.”
MORE CHILDREN ARE QUALIFYING
Many of these kids have really severe and costly needs. ‘When you look at the dollars that reach the actual schools, the increase in overall funding is being outstripped by the increase in mandated costs.’
Back in March, the Marin County Independent Journal had a similar story. It seems that while enrollment in the district is going down, special education costs are rising. This makes for a big money problem and they have to make budget cuts of $1.8M.
“ ‘This $1.8 million is just the beginning,’” said trustee Ross Millerick, referring to continuing challenges from rising pension costs, declining enrollment and flat per-student revenue from the state.” …
“Hawkins said another significant factor this year was a steep rise in special education costs. … ‘The costs for special education are up over $750,000 this year,’ Hawkins told the board on Tuesday. ‘This is the largest increase in over 20 years.’”…
No one seems willing to ask the obvious in these stories: Why are special education costs and numbers increasingly a problem, especially if enrollment is down?
While some may blame federal special ed mandates, it’s also true that these requirements have been there for decades. They’re nothing new.
WHAT is new are the statistics on special education students, and it’s really alarming.
In a May 28th story from Ed Source, reporter John Fensterwald wrote, “Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders agree that the state should significantly increase funding for students with disabilities.
And while a 21 percent increase in special ed funding may seem like a lot, critics say that “fewer than a quarter of the state’s school districts would qualify for any of the new money.”
Tucked into Fensterwald’s story was this telling statement: “Overall student enrollment statewide is declining, but the proportion of students with expensive-to-treat disabilities, primarily autism, has exploded from 1 in 50 special education students in 2001-02 to about 1 in 8 in 2016-17.”
Maybe the headline on this story should have been, Educating increasing number of autistic students strains school funds. Autism is taking over special education in California. If this kind of thing continues, in another 15 years one in 2 special education students will have autism. Or maybe by then one in every 2 regular ed kids will be on the spectrum. With no end in sight when it comes to increases, who knows.
It is simply unfathomable and inexcusable that reporters can report these alarming figures with no explanation. The same charge should also be made about the elected officials who see these increases in disabled children along with the soaring costs and merely try to accommodate the disaster.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.