Sunday LeftoversMay 3, 2009
Merit Pay DebateMay 5, 2009
An organization called The New Jersey Coalition for Special Education Funding Reform testified before the Assembly Budget Committee last month and started a letter-writing campaign among parents and special education advocates last week. What’s their beef? First, the new D.O.E. regulations, A6, give the Executive County Superintendents of each county in New Jersey the authority to review student placement, which is supposed to be decided by the Child Study Team.
Of course, imposing the E.C.S. on the highly-personalized and deliberative process of developing an Individualized Education Plan reeks of rank interference. Word is that, in fact, the E.C.S. will only review placement decisions to put pressure on districts to reduce “out-of-district” placements, but there’s already plenty of pressure to do so to save money. Surely our beleaguered E.C.S.’s have enough to do without randomly searching through speech and developmental evaluations to see if the Child Study Teams are witlessly placing children in extravagant programs. (It’s sort of like asking police officers to take their attention off criminal activity to check for expired registration tags.)
The N.J.’s Coalition’s other beef is that Corzine’s new funding formula neglects special education:
For more than a decade, our coalition has been asking for an independent study to examine the full cost to taxpayers of special education services in New Jersey…When SFRA was drafted, special education funding was not studied as part of the “costing out” effort. And when the Department hired experts to look at their plan, they specifically asked all three independent researchers NOT to look at special education…
We urge this legislature to commission a study to look at the full actual costs of special education, so that funding policy can be developed based on facts, not assumptions.
If they’re right, we’re neglecting a pretty expensive piece of the pie. The 230,000 classified students in N.J. cost over $3.3 billion a year to educate, according to the NJSBA. In fact, we classify a higher percentage of kids and spend more per special needs kid than just about anywhere in the country. Seems pretty reasonable to look more carefully at these children.
But the problem’s not the kids: it’s our educational infrastructure. We’ve got so many little districts that it’s mathematically challenging to come up with an cheaper and more inclusive program. Let’s say a kid is classified as autistic. In order to serve that child in-district, you’ll need at least a half dozen kids at the same age level with the same educational needs. How likely is that in one of our typically small districts? Or say you have a kid who’s hearing-impaired? Can you come up with 6 or 8 more kids who need similar instruction? How about behaviorally challenged? How about developmentally disabled? Most likely the district will send those kids out to (more expensive) placements.
So N.J. has also developed a hefty layer of private special education schools that like things just fine the way they are, thank you very much. These schools (see here) provide the services these kids need and that local districts can’t muster because they can’t come up with the cohorts. So our kids shlep miles away and local taxpayers pay the costs. It’s just another way that we segregate our children in order to preserve our home rule filigree.