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Arizona: SPED pop. has grown in "sheer numbers/severity of needs/range of services required"

Feb 17, 2020, AZ Central: Arizona schools are robbing Peter to pay Paul for special education. How do we fix this? Arizona has one of the highest rates of childhood trauma in the nation. These traumas can adversely affect how students – and those around them – learn. The most severe cases demand a suite of therapists, aides and other resources to keep them stable enough to learn. Federal legislation requires all public schools, be they district or charter, to provide these services…. Special ed has changed. Funding hasn't… The special-education population has grown – not only in sheer numbers but in the severity of needs and range of services required…. There also is increased pressure to integrate special-education students with their general education peers, which can improve performance but often requires additional staff, at greater costs. Not surprisingly, the Arizona Schools Boards Association estimated schools spent $1.2 billion on special education in 2018. And that’s likely a lowball figure because it doesn’t include transportation services that federal law also requires districts to provide for special-education students. It’s unclear how large the gap is between what state and federal special-education funding provides and what districts must spend, though some estimate it could be well north of $100 million…. Senate Bill 1060 is a good first step Senate Bill 1060 won’t eliminate these gaps. But it would vastly boost funding for the most woefully underfunded special-education classifications, such as the nebulous “other health impairments” category that includes many students who have experienced trauma – meaning schools that receive as little as $13 per student each year now would receive $501 per student. Higher-weighted classifications, such as autism, would receive an $842 boost per year, to $26,468 per student, according to a legislative fact sheet. Combined, the revised formula weights could result in an additional $56 million for schools to spend on special education next fiscal year…. SB 1060 has enjoyed wide support – which is different from previous attempts that tanked, in part, because they proposed to take money from one fund to boost another. The bill sailed through the Senate but is awaiting action in the House…. The state funds every student with autism – or an emotional disability or other health impairment – as if they were the same. But we know that’s not the case. Some can thrive in a general-education classroom with few services, while others may need multiple therapists and aides to assist them. Reimbursing schools based on the services their students require could more equitably distribute funds. But how do we set those rates? We need a new state audit to find out….


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