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Chicago: 75% of suburbs report "more special ed students enrolled this year"

May 10, 2024, Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, IL: Most suburban schools report special ed student growth

The need for special education services in suburban school districts is on the rise, according to newly released data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

A Daily Herald analysis of 104 suburban school districts shows a combined 3.4% growth in the number of students with Individualized Education Programs this year — a figure that mirrors a statewide increase from the 2022-23 school year.

Nearly three-quarters of the suburban districts in the analysis reported more special education students enrolled this year. The growth can put a strain on district budgets, and it can be difficult for schools to find enough personnel to provide the necessary services.

“It’s staffing based on student need,” said Kim Cline, assistant superintendent for support services and school safety at Wheeling Elementary District 21. “And in the last 10 years, it’s gotten more difficult mainly due to supply and demand.”

Fewer people are going into the profession, and there’s a growing need for the services, she explained.
Special education experts and advocates said a combination of factors have led to the increased number of students requiring an IEP.
“One reason might be because more students are getting early intervention services and identifying a need sooner,” Cline said. “And I think more parents are getting their children evaluated through outside providers.”

District 21 has 78 more students with an IEP than last year, an 8.7% increase, state records show. In all, 15.7% of the district’s student body receives some level of special education service.

The need for special education services has also become less stigmatizing in recent years, with parents more apt to seek and accept additional assistance for their children.

A Pew Research Center report from last year using data from the National Center for Education Statistics noted the number of special education students has doubled in the past 45 years nationwide, largely due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975.

The need varies from district to district, analysis revealed.

Combined, 14.4% of the students in the 104 suburban districts have an IEP, records show. There are seven districts where more than 20% of the students are receiving special education services — Rondout Elementary District 72, Villa Park Elementary District 45, Grayslake Elementary District 46, Mundelein Elementary District 75, Fox Lake Elementary District 114, Lake Villa Elementary District 41 and Rosemont Elementary District 7. . . . 

Nearly a quarter of Rondout’s students have an IEP, the highest rate among the suburban schools in the analysis. On the flip side is Stevenson High School District 125, where only 8.3% of the students receive special education services. It’s the only district where less than 10% of the students have an IEP, ISBE data shows. . . . 

And special education programming traditionally is one of the costlier aspects of a school district’s budget.

“School districts do not receive 100% reimbursement for support and services (given to) children with an IEP,” Wojcik said. “It does take a larger percentage of our budget to support our children with an IEP.”

In Lake Villa Elementary District 41, 32.4% of the district’s instructional spending is earmarked for special education costs this year, according to its 2024 budget. . . . 

Statewide, nearly 300,000 students have an IEP, ISBE records show. This school year, that represents almost 17% of all students from preschool through 12th grade.


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