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California: SPED numbers up from one in 50 to one in 8 in fifteen years

Nov 13, 2019, Nevada County (CA) Union: Special needs students, costs increase while Nevada County schools try to make do https://www.theunion.com/news/special-needs-students-costs-increase-while-nevada-county-schools-try-to-make-do/ Nevada Union’s Step program is situated in a long, enclosed hallway. Classrooms line each side, and include training for functional life skills. The 18- to 22-year-old students in these classes fall under the “moderate to severe” special needs category…. Half of Nevada Union High School’s “D Wing” is dedicated to “mild to moderate” special needs students. Generally, the school’s nurses spend 70% to 80% of their time with Individualized Education Program (IEP) students, or those with special needs, said Manchester. But despite Nevada Union’s extensive resources, the school’s administrators are nervous about special education funding — something that also concerns county and state officials. “It’s not just here in Nevada County that we’re underfunded, it’s statewide,” said Darlene Waddle, chief business official with the county office of education. “Special education costs have been rising faster than the revenue sources have been rising over the years. So it’s become a bigger problem recently than ever before.” Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden said the transition is particularly difficult for Nevada Union High School, where services to special needs students include intravenous feedings, physical and occupational therapists, staff trained to handle medical emergencies and emotional disturbances. It’s a space where special needs students ranging from “mild to moderate” and “moderate to severe” are served — which he said is rare for a school district. While the district is still providing numerous resources — schools are mandated to provide free, appropriate education — the costs associated with special education are “going up astronomically,” said McFadden. (That, he said, is added to the increasing costs of construction projects and pensions.) Today, 14% of district students qualify for special needs services. According to Manchester, that number was 11% a few years ago. State data elucidates the trend: in 2001, about 1 in 50 California students qualified for special education. In 2016 that number rose to 1 in 8. … “It’s going to be a challenge,” said Janet Horowitz, the district’s current director of pupil services. Eli Gallup, county office associate superintendent and SELPA director, said the rise in special needs students in the district is part of a greater trend of parents identifying and categorizing their children’s behavior to provide them optimal care. “(There’s) greater awareness of students with disabilities,” said Gallup…. “I’m not happy about it, but it’s a step in the right direction in terms of equity for everybody. We still do whatever it is we need to do to meet the needs of our special education students,” Zeisler said, including possibly dipping into the district’s general fund. According to the county’s SELPA funding model, Nevada Union High School, despite losing a significant chunk of funding, still receives the largest proportion of money at 31%. Grass Valley is second at 13%, along with the Nevada County Special Education Services…. The federally unfunded mandate instituted decades ago provided no statutory obligation for it to fund special education. Or, as Gallup explains: “It’s a nicer way of saying the government has not been fulfilling its promises.” … In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom increased special education funding for the 2019-20 school year to $646 million, but most of that money — $500 million — went specifically to preschool special education, according to education publication EdSource…. Consequently, administrators must decide to use school resources for individuals or the group, said Gallup. The questions that arise from this situation, Gallup suggests, are difficult. “‘Art program, or program for two autistic students?’” he said, giving an example of what administrators frequently ask. Ultimately, it’s up to the expanded role of schools to figure things out, Manchester said.