Special Education Needs Causing Financial Crisis In California Schools

Special Education Needs Causing Financial Crisis In California Schools

Now, I am all for special education for children with disabilities. I attended school at​ a​ time when such children were either put into “special” schools or​ thrown in​ with the general student population to​ sink or​ swim on their own. it​ was a​ terrible inequity. it​ finally was addressed in​ the 1970s with a​ law designed to​ correct such discrimination by giving these children the civil right to​ an​ equal opportunity to​ learn. The law covered children from birth to​ age 22, guaranteeing them the right to​ a​ free and “appropriate” public education. it​ is​ the ambiguous word “appropriate” written into the law that is​ creating a​ crisis for the California schools, according to​ Nanette Asimov, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The article cited a​ situation of​ one California schools child with a​ disability. The assigned public middle school offered special college prep classes, daily help from a​ special education expert, a​ laptop computer, extra time for tests, the opportunity to​ temporarily leave class if​ the child’s had an​ anxiety attack, and a​ special advocate to​ smooth over any problems with teachers.

The parents hired a​ special consultant instead, who found alternative schooling opportunities — all were private schools and all were out-of-state. They settled on a​ boarding school in​ Maine, outside the main city, that had one-tenth of​ the enrollment of​ the California schools. The one thing this school did not offer was a​ special education program. The mother said that smaller classrooms and a​ smaller campus were more important than a​ special education program. Since the possibility of​ anxiety attacks was mentioned in​ the article, no one can truly judge the merit of​ this situation except the child’s physician and/or psychologist.

After the child was placed into the private school, the parents then hired an​ attorney, who specializes in​ special education cases, to​ file papers with the court demanding the California schools pay four years of​ tuition and family travel costs between California and Maine. Tuition was $30,000 annually. The California schools met the demands.

This is​ only one such case in​ the California schools, which may or​ may not have been justified. The problem is​ that it​ is​ not the only case. in​ 2018, there were 3,763 California schools children with disabilities that were the focus of​ formal complaints — the vast majority of​ which came from parents. This is​ triple the number of​ only ten years ago, and the numbers are growing.

With a​ cost of​ almost $40,000 to​ go to​ a​ court hearing and the possibility of​ an​ expensive judgment, the California schools attempt to​ settle cases before they get that far. in​ 2018, ten percent of​ the California schools’ cases went to​ a​ full hearing — 386 in​ all. The remaining 90 percent were resolved through confidential settlements. With 700,000 special needs students currently in​ the California schools and already paying hundreds of​ thousands of​ dollars each year for private placements, the school system is​ headed for a​ financial crisis.

In 2018, the California schools received $4.1 billion for special education from the government and local sources. it​ was still not enough to​ pay these extra settlement costs, and the California schools had to​ take $1.6 billion from the regular class budget. Twenty-eight percent of​ the special education expenditures that year came from the regular education budget.

California schools educators complain that parents who are able to​ afford an​ attorney are assured more opportunities for their children than those who cannot afford to​ do so, creating an​ inequity between the haves and have-nots. Additionally, special education teachers see benefits to​ special programs, such as​ horseback riding therapy, but acknowledge that such parent demands are not education related. California schools parents and educators are at​ odds.

Parents are making tuition payment demands of​ the California schools for such programs as​ private day schools, boarding schools, summer camps, horseback riding therapy, and aqua therapy. Additionally, the California schools are expected to​ pay for computers, airfare, car rental, hotel stays, meals, new clothing and tailoring for the children, cell phone calls, stamps, gas and tolls, and future round-trip visits from time of​ enrollment until the children graduate from high school.

In all, the California schools are paying billions of​ dollars each year for private placements and auxiliary costs. it​ is​ creating an​ inequity for children the civil rights law was passed to​ protect and a​ financial crisis for the California schools.

I have to​ admit that I wanted every opportunity possible for my child to​ live a​ happy and normal adult life. I had a​ special needs child and spent many hours sitting in​ principals’ offices and at​ the school board demanding that his needs be met. I was thankful that he received access to​ the available offerings within the public school system.

In my view, however, it​ is​ not a​ question of​ right or​ wrong, justified expenditure or​ not. it​ is​ a​ question of​ the legislators going back and specifically defining the word “appropriate”. Until then, the California schools are borrowing from Peter to​ pay Paul, which means less opportunities all the way around.

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