California: One in 8 students has special needs; $13B a year in costs

Nov 8, 2019, Ed Source: California spending over $13 billion annually on special education Spending on special education students in California has increased by just over 20 percent over the past decade — from $10.8 billion to $13 billion in inflation-adjusted figures, according to a new report. That’s just one of the startling figures in the report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that provides a detailed overview of California’s special education system, which now serves some 800,000 students with physical, cognitive and learning disabilities. They make up about 1 in 8 of California’s public school students. Despite the massive investment, special education students lag behind almost all other student groups on a range of measures, such as average test scores and graduation rates. They also are suspended from school and are chronically absent — which means absent from school for 10 percent or more of the instructional year — at higher rates…. The majority of students have relatively mild disabilities like speech impairments and specific learning disabilities like dyslexia. However, the number of students with severe disabilities has increased substantially, doubling over the past two decades, according to the report. The biggest increase has been in the proportion of children diagnosed with autism, which has risen from 1 in 600 students in 1997-98 to 1 in 50 students in 2017-18 — a 12-fold increase…. The average cost of educating a special education student each year is $26,000, compared to $9,000 to educate a “general education” student. Costs vary widely depending on the disability of each student, the LAO report notes. For example, it might cost $1,000 a year to provide a student with periodic speech therapy, while a student in an out-of-state non-public school with severe emotional problems might cost a district $100,000 a year…. Beth Burt, president of the Autism Society of California, said that the state has made considerable progress in serving students with significant disabilities, such as autism…. The 2019 budget bill (Senate Bill 75) approved by the California Legislature in June 2019 requires the Legislature to come up with a set of reforms to be included in next year’s budget bill “to improve the academic outcomes of individuals with exceptional needs.” … Local school districts have had to pick up an ever-increasing share of the costs. On average, California school districts now pay 61 percent of the costs, up from 49 percent just a decade ago, according to the LAO report….