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Bridgeport, CT: 19% of students are SPED; "Amount of high-needs pupils on the rise"

Nov 4, 2023, CT Post: Bridgeport schools seek to replace dwindling COVID-19 aid for special education, bilingual teachers

Bridgeport Public Schools will need to come up with around $4 million in the next budget to keep more than two dozen special education teachers, English language instructors and other key positions that are now covered by dwindling federal aid, district officials said.

The last round of the combined $150 million or so in COVID-related relief awarded to the district is set to expire early next fall, ending a temporary source of revenue that helped the cash-strapped school system avoid cuts during the worst of the pandemic.

The aid program, known as the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER, was created in 2020 to help schools across the country address the impact of COVID-19. In Bridgeport, the funds have been used to cover the cost of after school programs, new technology and other items. …

District officials will need to find alternate revenue sources or consider cutting existing programs to ensure those positions and services, which are mandated by the state, are funded throughout the course of the 2024-25 school year. …

Though the total number of students has stayed relatively stable in recent years, the amount of high-needs pupils has been on the rise, district data shows. As of this month, 3,669 of the district's more than 19,300 students are enrolled in special education services, up slightly from last year.

The number of English language learners, students who primarily speak a foreign language, has also recently expanded. About 5,540 children — or 28 percent — of the student body are now receiving a bilingual education, an increase of more than 500 students from a year earlier.

“We are a district with high needs due to many factors,” Siegel said. “But two of those factors are special education and English language learners.”

In an interview, new Superintendent Carmela Levy-David suggested the increase in the number of special education students could have been driven by gaps in the district’s curriculum, which may have prompted educators to mistakenly believe a student needs specialized instruction instead of additional attention.

For instance, Levy-David shared the example of a student she encountered during one of her first few weeks on the job who was struggling with a written assignment, not because of a disability but due to the fact that they did not speak fluent English. She helped the student translate the assignment, which allowed them to complete the work.


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