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WSJ: More kids in SED; driven by pandemic, "shrinking stigma"

June 20, 2024, Wall Street Journal: A Record Number of Kids Are in Special Education—and It’s Getting Harder to Help Them All
What’s driving a rise in special education: pandemic disruptions, a shrinking stigma

(The entire article is available only by subscription, but it scanned it here below)

More American children than ever are qualifying for special education, but schools are struggling to find enough teachers to meet their needs.

A record 7.5 million students accessed special-education services in U.S. schools as of 2022-2023, including children with autism, speech impairments and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. That is 15.2% of the public-school student population, up from less than 13% a decade earlier, the most recent federal data shows.

Several factors are driving the increase. Pandemic disruptions left kids withlingering learning and behavioral challenges. Parents have become more assertive about asking for services, as the stigma around special education has lessened. Autism diagnoses have also risen in recent decades, and the state ofTexas has seen a boom in special education after changing an approach that hadlimited access.

Students with disabilities benefit from services like speech therapy, specialized reading lessons or personal classroom aides. Yet many schools report being understaffed in special education. And now, districts face growing pressure on their budgets as federal Covid relief aid is set to expire this fall.

“We are in a situation right now that is not sustainable,” said Kevin Rubenstein, who oversees special education for an 8,000-student suburban Chicago district. “We continue to struggle to make sure that we have enough teachers in place.”

Georgia parent Joshua Caines appreciated the special-education services his local public elementary school provided for his now 12-year-old son, whose autism and ADHD affect his attention and ability to hand-write, among other things.

Caines worried, though, about middle school, and whether a larger campus and class sizes would overwhelm his son, who learns better around people he’s familiar with. So he moved him to a Christian private school for sixth grade, where he’s in classes with less than 10 students.


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