What happens to a school when special-needs students show up?
July 27, 2008 5:28 PM   Subscribe

Do schools that take on special-needs children that require one-on-one education have to pay for teachers out of their normal budget?

I'm engaged in a small argument with somebody, but we're stalled until we can figure out what happens to a public school when perhaps four of five unplanned for autistic kids are enrolled. Do they get it paid for 100% with new federal funds? Do they have to make cuts elsewhere to hire new teachers? Can you find any examples of other teachers being let go?

Being able to cite sources would be a plus.
posted by floam to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What state do you live in? Each state determines how localities in that state will fund their schools, so you need to be more specific.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 1975, federal funds are supposed to cover 40% of the additional costs associated with educating special needs children, but that money has not materialized in many cases. Some sources say that the actual amount provided is as little as 10% of the actual cost of complying with the IDEA standards.

Where the rest of the funding comes from depends on how education in that state is funded. In most states, education funding comes from local property taxes with state funds kicking in for certain kinds of services, including in most cases certain kinds of services for students with special educational needs. But how much and under what circumstances that money is provided depends what state your city is in.
posted by decathecting at 5:55 PM on July 27, 2008

posted by floam at 6:04 PM on July 27, 2008

This is a rough explanation, but this is how it goes in my district:

In my school district in Florida every kid that has a disability, whether it be autism or some other disability, has an IEP, Individualized Education Plan. The IEP assigns how much money is assigned to the child per year. A "regular" student, that is not disabled, in our school district has about 3000 dollars assigned to them per year. My nephew, who has autism, has about 15,000 dollars assigned to him. The moneys come from local, state, and federal funds. If a child needs a one on one aid they will dip into a big pot to pay that aid. The big pot consists of the moneys left over from other disabled kids that aren't using all of their money. (Like my nephew's money that was assigned to him. He won't need it all. He doesn't need a private aid.) They are not taking funds away from the "regular" students. I guess it could trickle down if you have a ton of disabled students enrolling at one particular school, but this would be rare.

Sorry, no citations, but if I dig I'm almost sure I could find them.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:17 PM on July 27, 2008

That would be the Individualized Education Program, not plan.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:19 PM on July 27, 2008

Minor nit here:
that take on special-needs children
Please tell me that you meant "schools that enroll special needs children..." not implying that the schools choose to accept them or not. Inclusion is mandatory and the IEP built by the school and the parents determines what needs to be done to ensure inclusion and education of that student and the school is responsible, to a large degree, for choosing the specific method of that implementation.

Most schools know well in advance what to expect in terms of students and their required support system and have budget set aside for that. Part of the coverage of that budget is fed, part state and part town. I worked as a tech administrator in a very small school district and part of my job involved filling out paperwork for the state that was to show our eligibility for reimbursement for telecommunications costs and tech infrastructure. This district had three or four paper ledgers for the annual budget and what was spent, and I had to go through this to verify it. So I got to see how they handled assistive technology (among other things) and they had very specific state and fed budget line items that were used to cover these items as well as the aides.

New students with IEPs were never a surprise. Since 1 new student to a grade might be a 2 to 4.5% increase in that class' headcount, they had to know.

Several hundred new students would be burden in any district.
posted by plinth at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2008

Like plinth said, public schools do not have a choice whether to educate a child with a handicapping condition or not. By federal law they have to be educated in the "least restrictive environment", meaning they should be educated in a setting as close to their peers as they can handle. This does give school districts some leeway in pooling their resources so that kids that have more intensive needs can be placed together. In Fort Worth where I work we have specialized classrooms for students with autism, mental retardation, early childhood handicaps, and emotional disturbance, but not on every campus. A student that has intensive needs goes to the nearest campus to where they live that can provide what they need. Funding comes from a combination of federal and state dollars. Here, extensive, detailed paperwork (actually, it's submitted electronically now) is required for every special education student in order to get funding from the government.
posted by Zebtron at 7:01 PM on July 27, 2008

I have a friend who teaches severely disabled kids exclusively and has the maximum number of kids allowed in her classroom, which I think is seven. There are only two kids with aides, apparently parents have to specifically request (and fight to have) aides even when their kids are wheelchair bound and non-responsive. The teacher herself has an aide so there are four adults in the room for about a two-to-one ratio. She knows almost a year before which kids are coming into her classroom the following year.
posted by cali at 9:22 PM on July 27, 2008

Though I tried to look for sources, I couldn't find much. But basically, when kids with special needs show up, the school WILL get more money from the feds/state/city. How much will vary on a number of things, and it's my understanding (based on my district) that special ed funding is not currently on par with inflation. (Though, I doubt anything is.)

But going back to your argument..4-5 autistic kids is, in some ways, better than one. With 4-5 kids, you can pool resources and perhaps start an autism program. If the district is large enough, they can pull autistic students from other schools and house them all at one site.

So will non-special ed teachers be cut if a bunch of special-ed kids show up? It doesn't seem very likely. First of all, like many have already said, the school has a responsibility to teach them and will be given money to do so. Second of all, when resources are tight, there is no way any school is going to explain away teacher cuts by blaming it on special ed kids hogging resources. Sure, this COULD be the case under ground, but I've seen a lot of cuts in my day, and they're much more likely to go after teaching assistants and other non-teacher types first.

I don't have any direct support for this besides anecdotal, but this is a good faq I found on a simple google search.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 9:54 PM on July 27, 2008

You're going to have trouble finding a source that says, "we're firing a bunch of teachers, and it's all the fault of those darned children with disabilities!" You will, however, be able to find myriad sources to say, "we're reducing the number of teaching positions on our staff as a result of the state education funding formula, which doesn't give local districts enough funding for many of our needs, including special education, resulting in an inability to maintain staffing levels." Here are a few such sources for your state.
posted by decathecting at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2008

New students with IEPs were never a surprise.

I agree with what you said, but just want to toss out there that a kid with an IEP can be a surprise. When we moved we unavoidably gave our new school district very little warning before we showed up in the middle of the school year, IEP in hand.

Do they get it paid for 100% with new federal funds?

The phrase "unfunded federal mandate" springs to mind.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2008

Some of the kids' services are funded partially by Medicaid. I'm a speech pathologist and I do Medicaid billing for some of my students. I believe that physical therapists, occupational therapists, and perhaps social workers do the same.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:07 AM on July 28, 2008

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