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Rockland, MD: 23% of students are SPED; complex needs growing

May 2, 2019, Knox Village Soup, Rockland, MD: Special education costs a lot. Here's why Recent newspaper headlines across the state have repeatedly cited special education as the primary cause for school budget increases. This really isn’t surprising; according to the Maine Education Policy Research Institute, annual special education spending in Maine increased more than 15 percent between 2010 and 2015 to $351 million per year, while regular education spending increased by 10 percent. In Regional School Unit 13, 23 percent of the proposed 2019-2020 budget is allocated to special education, and, like statewide special education costs, this amount has steadily grown over time. It is important to understand, however, that this increase is the result of two unavoidable cost drivers – legal obligations and special education population trends that are both beyond the control of local school communities like RSU 13…. Special education population trends Special education costs are also increasing because RSU 13’s population of children with disabilities continues to grow, both in size and in the complexity of student needs. Since 2016-2017, the overall number of special education students has been increasing, on average, by 4.3 percent per year because of increased numbers of transfers, increased numbers of incoming kindergarteners who already receive special education services, and increased numbers of special education referrals throughout the year. The number of children entering RSU 13’s schools who already receive special education services through Child Development Services has been consistently growing; there is a projected 200 percent increase in the number of incoming CDS students for the 2019-2020 school year alone. Additionally, the number of students who are referred to special education throughout the school year has been expanding. As of March 2019, during this school year alone, 69 students have been referred for special education services. While not all students qualify for services, many of them do. Given these factors, it is not surprising that 384 students in RSU 13, or approximately 23.39 percent of the total student population, currently receive special education services. This is more students than the student population of Oceanside Middle School! If current trends continue, this number is projected to reach approximately 400 students during the next school year. The needs of students with disabilities are also intensifying, as reflected by the increasing numbers of students placed in RSU 13’s Life Skills Programs and Intensive Support Programs. These self-contained programs provide students with significant cognitive disabilities or emotional disabilities, respectively, with the high levels of support and supervision necessary for them to safely and successfully attend public school. Almost 25 percent of RSU 13’s students receive services associated with these intense settings. Because of the complexity of their needs, students placed in self-contained programs require the highest level of services available in public school. Not only do they need access to a special education classroom for their entire day, but they also often require many other services, such as social work, behavior consultation, occupational therapy and other related services, as well as special transportation and direct adult support. Efforts to maintain safety and ensure these students make educational progress are both necessary and resource intensive, and, as a result, are very costly….
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