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Kansas: "Soaring rates" of SPED students, more autism, "better at identifying"

Sept 1, 2023, Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas schools are seeing record numbers of special education students, and fewer teachers

Most Kansas students are back in school, and an increasing share of them are likely to need special education services.
Like most other states, Kansas has seen soaring rates in the numbers of students needing special education services. Last year, a record 81,000 students, or about 15.9% of the state's student population, were identified to receive special services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

That's an increase of 4.5% since fall 2019, the last count before COVID, and 14.5% since fall 2015.

Coupled with an overall shortage of teachers and legally inadequate funding, the increase has put a strain on Kansas school systems, which are required to continue providing special education services with all level of fidelity regardless of other challenges.

Of the 13 categories for the various special education services a student might need, Kansas — like other states — has particularly seen more students needing services in the learning disability category.

That includes disabilities like dyslexia, and various studies have indicated that anywhere between 20% and 40% of the population have a reading disability.

The growth in number of students receiving learning disability services is believed to be driven by schools being better at identifying such disabilities, especially at earlier ages, as well as an overall statewide effort to better support students who struggle to read….

Kersenbrock-Ostmeyer, a longtime special educator, oversees a team that provides special education services to about 1,000 students across 19 school districts — covering an area of more than 12,000 square miles across 12 counties.

“People are not as afraid of the stigma of special education,” she said. “In my early years, people used to be afraid of that, but it’s a lot more mainstream now. Parents do want their kids receiving those special services if that’s what it takes to be successful in school.”

More students are also being diagnosed with autism, as well as emotional disturbances that affect their ability to learn in classrooms.

Comparatively, the numbers of low-incidence students — or students who are deaf, blind, or have significant cognitive impairments — has remained relatively steady, said Bert Moore, director of special education for Kansas State Department of Education


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