Accelify Blog

Special Ed Under-Funded; Educators and Parents Overwhelmed (TX)

May 10, 2010

There’s a huge gap between the current teaching model to serve special education students and the money available to fund it.

On Tuesday, the Killeen ISD school board will vote on whether to approve 13 full-time and one part-time special education teachers for the next school year. This will take about $600,000 from the general fund.

The "inclusion" model has been used in districts for a long time, but in recent years, state and federal requirements have made inclusion almost an obligatory method.

In this instance, no more than a third of a regular education classroom would consist of special needs students. Ideally, a regular ed teacher would be aided by a second teacher certified in special education.

But those special ed-certified teachers or aides are too few compared to the number of students they need to serve. The district would ideally have one for every 24 special needs students, and adding 13 positions would bring the number of students down to 23.

"There’s too many kids, not enough teachers to give them the time that they need," said one parent whose son has a form of autism and whose daughter has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

She said, "There are so many different disabilities in one class. You can’t just say, ‘ok, we’re going to teach this child this way, we’re going to teach this child this way.’ It’s not a group setting. Most of these kids need one-on-one."

Another parent, whose special-needs daughter is in first grade, said, "To add special needs to an overpopulated classroom – it’s just disaster all around. And I feel so sorry for the teachers, because there are some amazing teachers, but they’re frustrated and tired and exhausted."

She added, "If you’re not trained to deal with a special needs child, the child’s suffering, the teacher’s suffering, and then the children that aren’t special needs – or have any disabilities – they’re suffering."

Susie Svoboda, whose son currently spends three 20-minute sessions per day as an inclusion student in a regular class, said of the system, "It’s a good marriage. And if there’s a smaller class number and there’s support in there, all those kids will be reached."

But having the staff available to implement this model is a challenge. So for the rest of her son’s school day, he is put in a different class with other special ed students.

"I think we all need to work together as a team. And as a parent, I’m willing to help work with them, you know – if we need to raise money, push for more teachers to come. I mean, something has got to be better than what’s going on right now," she said.

Special needs students are put in different classes depending on their level of disability. Some are put in regular classes under the inclusion method and some in self-contained, separate classes.

Dr. Bobby Ott, deputy superintendent, said, "It’s impossible with just state funding, to fund an inclusion model, so local districts are having to come up with money out of their own general fund and carve out and in some cases – having to take other services off the table to support inclusion."

The state funding allotted to each student depends on their category of need. If a regular education student is given $1 from the state, a special education student in an inclusion class is given $1.10. This, while those more severe cases bound to a separate class are given $ 3.00.

Ott says the inclusion students need much more because of that additional instructor, when they’re currently being funded like a regular student.

"For any school districts to implement that fully, it would almost be impossible because the funding structure is not there," he said.

Meanwhile, one cannot just take students out of the regular classrooms, because of state and federal testing requirements.

In 2007, amendments to Title I of No Child Left Behind made it permissible for only three percent of special education students to take modified tests or tests below grade level. That translates into 97 percent of those students being required to take grade-level tests.

"That absolutely forces the hand of an inclusion concept," Dr. Ott said. "Because you have to have that student learning from a regular ed teacher, that knows the general ed curriculum the best and can prepare the students for those tests."

Mike Helm, a school board member, said of Tuesday’s vote, "We’ll be better than we were. We’ll have more coverage than we did last year if we had these positions, but it’s still not all that we would like. And probably because of funding issues, we may never get to where we’d like to have it."