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California: "Special education in California in dire need of improvement"

Feb 18, 2020, Special education in California in need of overhaul, researchers say Better training for teachers and improved screening are among the recommendations Special education in California should be overhauled to focus on the individual needs of students, with better training for teachers, more streamlined services and improved screening for the youngest children, according to a compilation of reports released today. Those were some of the recommendations proposed in “Special Education: Organizing Schools to Serve Students with Disabilities in California,” a package of 13 reports and a summary produced by Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research and policy organization led by faculty from UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Southern California and Stanford University. “By almost every indicator you look at, special education in California is in dire need of improvement,” said Heather Hough, PACE’s executive director. “We need to rethink the way we organize schools, so students with disabilities are at the center and not at the fringes.”… Funding shortfalls are a major concern in special education, especially as the number of students in special education increases, but the report did not look closely at financial matters because that topic was partly addressed in a recent PACE report called Getting Down to Facts, Hough said. In addition, West Ed, a consulting firm, is working on a separate report on special education funding in California, she said…. Their recommendations come after years of concern about the state of special education in California, which currently serves more than 725,000 children with a range of physical and intellectual impairments, including autism and specific learning disabilities like dyslexia. In his proposed budget last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom described the state’s special education system as “a crisis.”… Newsom is proposing a “three-phase, multi-year process to improve special education finance, services and student outcomes.” This includes a new formula for allocating special education funds and increasing funding for special education by $250 million on top of last year’s increase million of $645 million. Last year, almost 1 in 8 California students in K-12 schools were in special education, an increase of almost 14 percent from 2014-15. Much of the increase is due to more diagnoses of autism, although the majority of students overall in special education have learning disabilities…. Several of the reports focus on the importance of early childhood screening for disabilities, which can help children’s development and long-term outcomes, according to the research. Most of the PACE recommendations hinge on funding, a major obstacle for schools trying to improve their services for disabled students. Districts’ costs are rising as the number of disabled students increases, along with the number of students with severe disabilities, according to the research. “The costs for districts are escalating, while revenues are not,” Hough said. “Districts are forced to make some really tough decisions.”

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