How Peaceful is Camden?December 23, 2011
NJ’s “Extreme Segregation” of Poor SchoolchildrenJanuary 2, 2012
This morning’s Trenton Times highlights a new initiative from Trenton Public Schools to try to lessen the expense of educating children with disabilities. Currently Trenton sends 750 kids out-of-district (out of a total enrollment of 11,564 kids) to either private or county special ed placements. The total bill from out-of-district placements for those kids came to $38.8 million last year. After efforts from Interim Superintendent Raymond Broach and State Fiscal Monitor Mark Cowell, out-of-district placements dropped to 620 kids this year, at a projected cost of $37.3 million, or about $60,000 per child per year. (It’s not apparent from the article whether that figure includes transportation, which can add another $5-$10K per year.)
To try to control costs Trenton will reopen a shuttered school (Luiz Munoz-Rivera School) and create an in-district program for kids with behavioral problems. It’s a great idea, and the board and administration (not to mention the Fiscal Monitor) deserve props for proactivity. But it’s not just about money. Think about it: are 6% of Trenton’s students so significantly disabled that they need to be placed in segregated and restrictive placements?
There’s lots of factors that contribute to NJ’s high rate of out-of-district special ed placements. We classify a large number of kids as eligible for special education service (about 15% in NJ; the national average is between 9% and 10%). We have a plethora of small districts (591) and that makes it particularly difficult to assemble cohorts of kids with similar disabilities in order to comprise a classroom. There’s a sentiment among some parents that private school placements offer superior programming and therapists. Certainly in districts like Trenton an out-of-district placement is a ticket out of the generally bleak public school system.
Most significantly, we overclassify minority kids. A Harvard study published in 2007 notes that “school districts nationwide continue to improperly and disproportionately place minority students in special education classes.” In New Jersey in particular (as well as Florida, Alabama, Delaware, and Colorado) “the number of African-American students identified as mentally retarded was more than three times that of white students.”
Also check out this study from the NJ Center of Developmental Disabilities: “Where are We Now? Still Segregated in NJ.”