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Palm Springs, CA: Fewer students enrolled yet SPED increasing; autism a factor

Jan 17, 2019, Palm Springs (CA) Desert Sun: Triple threat looms over California schools. How will the valley's districts manage finances? Declines in overall school enrollment, growing special education needs and increased contributions to teacher pensions are stressing school districts' budgets across California. More students in special education means districts have to hire more teachers and support staff. And, more personnel means greater pension costs. At the same time diminishing enrollment, which factors heavily into the state funding formula that determines the amount of money a district receives, results in smaller allotments from the state because, as a whole, there are fewer students to teach. … According to data collected by the California Department of Education, all three districts in the Coachella Valley — Palm Springs Unified, Desert Sands Unified and Coachella Valley Unified — saw a decrease in overall enrollment the past five years, with some fluctuations in-between. The special education population at each of the districts, however, ticked up every year like clockwork. … These two trends in conjunction can mean financial trouble because special education funding from the state and federal government is largely calculated using overall attendance, regardless of the number of special education students. This means the special education needs of a district can rise while the funding decreases due to lower enrollment. The exact reason for the rise remains unclear to local administrators, but administrators believe parents and educators have become better at identifying autism and other learning disorders. While the culture around special education has become more sensitive to the needs, the funding has not kept up. … According to a 2018 study by West Ed, the average special-education student in California requires nearly double the financial investment as a student in general education. A student with severe needs requiring residential care can cost districts upwards of $100,000 a year…. The most daunting numbers come from Coachella Valley Unified, where the enrollment decreased from 18,850 students to 18,372 since 2013 while the number of special-education students climbed from 1,670 to 2,040. In the past five years, overall enrollment declined at Coachella Valley schools while the special education population grew. …
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