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***NIGHTMARE IN KANSAS; explosion in SPED students/ones with aggressive behavior

Updated: Sep 16, 2019

Sept 13, 2019, Hays (KS) Post: TALLMAN: Increasing student needs driving special-ed costs, staff shortages Rising numbers of young children with severe behavioral, emotional and mental health needs and speech and language issues are driving up school district costs and worsening an already critical shortage of qualified staff and services…... Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, a member of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions ommittee, has publicly backed the goal of increasing federal funding from the current 16 percent to 40 percent of special education costs. … Growing demands, especially at early ages The number of Kansas students receiving services under IDEA, including those in private schools, is increasing rapidly, up 20.3 percent from 2001 to 2018, according to federal reports. That is four times the rate of increase in all students in Kansas public school districts. Special education leaders say the biggest reason is the growing identification of young children with special needs. The number of three-to-five-year-olds receiving special education in Kansas increased by over 4,000, or 52.3 percent, since 2001. That helps explain the growth in total special education enrollment, because once students are identified, they usually remain in the system. Educators agree that part of the growth is due to stronger efforts to identify students with special needs earlier. With more districts providing all-day kindergarten and preschool programs, more students are enrolled and those with special needs can be spotted. Districts are also expected to seek out high need students before they enroll in kindergarten. The biggest challenges are growing numbers of students with aggressive behaviors, who can’t regulate themselves, can’t interact with other students and may be dangerous to themselves and others and destroy school property; and those lacking in speech and language skills. What educators are not sure about is why those numbers are growing so fast. One theory is that too many young parents either haven’t been taught appropriate skills to raise children or are too stretched or stressed by work or other obligations to provide such care. Related is the suggestion that children who used to be raised by parents and grandparents are now in foster care, a system with substantial, well-documented problems. A growing concern is “screen time;” that young children are given a phone or tablet to distract, occupy or amuse them at the expense of interaction with parents or peers, making them less prepared for interaction with other adults and children and less able to pay attention to a teacher. A classroom can put stress on children not used to being in a structured setting or struggling to meet higher academic goals before learning basics like socializing with others and toileting. The high cost and limited availability of childcare is one reason many children have no experience outside their immediate home and family when they arrive at school, and lack language and social skills. Such students lag behind their peers from the beginning and often never catch up. As one school leader said, students can quickly “internalize” that they are “failures” and don’t believe they can learn. The dwindling support for children and families from other providers, such as mental health providers, means problems become worse until the child arrives at school, which may be the only way a family can get assistance. As one special education administrator notes: “No matter how difficult the issues might be, the public school is the one place children can always legally go to.” Other providers don’t have to provide services without funding or can limit services to those who can pay. That leaves out many of the highest need cases – until the school steps in. Rising toll on the staff and schools School leaders say the growing demands on special education are straining programs that have long experienced a shortage of teachers. More students require more teachers. When they can’t be found, caseloads increase, leading to teacher frustration, burn-out and turnover. Parents are frustrated by the lack of consistency, which also hurts relationships between families and the school. Schools turn to using substitutes who may not have a full license and to paraprofessionals who don’t have training as teachers. Administrators say they do the best they can to meet student needs but could do better with better-trained staff. A study released last year by the Kansas Division of Legislative Post Audit found that school districts would need to hire an additional 700 special education teachers and 2,600 other licensed professionals like speech pathologists to meet “best practices” guidelines. If that were done, districts could cut between 1,700 and 3,900 paraprofessional positions, but would still require more funding because licensed staff earn significantly more than unlicensed paras………

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