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Arizona: Supt of Ed needs more $$ for SPED; 33% increase in autism/severe disabilities in 3 yrs

Feb 28, 2020, Show Low (AZ) Independent: State schools chief pleads with lawmakers for special education funding Arizona Superintendent of Education Kathy Hoffman last week appealed to the state legislature to make up a chronic, $100-million shortfall in the money the state provides for special education students. Some 12 percent of the state’s students must cope with learning disabilities. Federal law requires special services for students diagnosed with conditions like attention deficiency disorder, dyslexia, deafness, vision impairment emotional disorders and mental illness and disabilities. However, the state provides less money than it takes to provide those legally-required services — forcing districts to shift the money from other programs…. Rural school districts in Gila, Navajo and Apache counties generally have special education populations above the 12 percent statewide average. They also have a harder time attracting qualified special education teachers, contributing to a chronic shortage of special education teachers and other specialists. In Apache and Navajo counties, most of the 22 districts have special education percentages well above the state average, including Alpine (21 percent), Concho (19 percent), Vernon (18 percent), St. Johns (14 percent), Round Valley (15 percent), Show Low, (14 percent), Snowflake (14 percent) and Heber-Overgaard (13 percent). Only Pinon, Holbrook, Window Rock and Ganado are below the state average. Hoffman, a public school speech pathologist before her election as superintendent, said special education programs face a crisis, without the resources to provide mandated services…. State and federal funding for special education programs comes to about $1 billion annually — an 8 percent increase since 2013, according to the Arizona School Boards Association. That doesn’t include classroom site funds and transportation, which also provide funding for special education programs…. The percentage of special education students has remained relatively stable at about 12 percent since 2013, but the increasing severity of the disabilities has driven an increase in costs, according to an analysis by Anabel Aportela, director of research for the Arizona School Boards Association. The percentage of students with multiple disabilities like autism and severe intellectual disability rose 33 percent between 2013 and 2016…. Overall, the share of students with the most severe disabilities had increased from 1.75 percent of the total student population to 1.86 percent. Meanwhile, the number of students will mild disabilities decreased from 9.78 percent to 9.64 percent of the total student The shift to more severe diagnosis has driven a 17 percent increase in special education teachers between 2004 and 2007 and a 43 percent increase in special education aides. The last study to document the full cost of providing special education services was conducted in 2007. It documented a $318 million shortfall.

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