Bakersfield, CA: "As autism rates surge" so does $$$ to educate them

June 24, 2017, The price of special education: As autism rates surge among children, so does the cost to educate them An unexplained increase in autistic and emotionally disturbed students is driving up special education enrollments — a huge problem for school districts that aren't getting any additional state and federal funds to cover the ballooning costs. All they can do is dive into their reserves. In 2013, the Kern High School District had 3,173 students with Individualized Education Programs. It's projected to serve almost 1,000 more next year. The Bakersfield City School District saw 64 new autistic students last year, bringing the total number of its special ed students north of 3,100 — a 4 percent increase over the prior year. Experts can only speculate as to why autism diagnoses are on the rise – they've been attributed to everything from genetic deficiencies to better detection to vaccines. But those in special education are sure of one thing: the costs are staggering. “We’re drowning,” Roberta Joseph, a speech language therapist at Leo G. Pauly Elementary School said. Some disabled students cost more to educate than others. But on average, KHSD paid about $19,170 to accommodate each of about 3,800 special education students last year. BCSD educated 3,146 students at $16,326 apiece. ... “The number of special education students has been rising and the cost of an individual special ed student, especially the more challenging students, is significant,” said Julianna Gaines, executive director of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Consortium SELPA. .... SURGING NUMBERS KHSD will see 333 more disabled students next year, an 8 percent increase over last year. It has already hired more special education teachers to add to the 235 on staff, and added classrooms to accommodate them, Niday said. Most special education students require two to three times the staffing of a general one. “In your basic special education classroom, they would have a teacher, and then most students require additional supports, so there’s additional staff members. There’s speech pathologists, a mental health clinician, behaviorists, psychologists,” Niday said. ... One in 68 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cause of the spike in cases has been speculated to be everything from vaccine and herbicide exposure to greater public awareness of the disorder. BCSD enrolled 64 new autistic students last year, bringing its total to 451. In 2002, it had just 47. And while 64 new students may not sound like a significant increase, in special education, where class sizes are kept to about 10 students per room and each student has specific needs, it hits school budgets hard.