Mind the Gap: Serving students with special needs despite federal shortages
In the last decade, Congress has only provided marginal increases to IDEA — currently, funding only accounts for approximately 13% of annual per pupil estimates. Additionally, funding for infants and toddlers has eroded significantly from a high of $1,768 per child in 1999 to $645 per child in 2017, adjusted for inflation. (Getty Images)
The U.S. Department of Education estimates that approximately 7.6 million children aged 3 through 21 with disabilities were served through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in Fiscal Year 2022. The number of special needs children eligible for services under IDEA has risen faster than the growth rate of the general population.
Nevertheless, in the last decade, Congress has only provided marginal increases to IDEA — currently, funding only accounts for approximately 13% of annual per pupil estimates. Additionally, funding for infants and toddlers has eroded significantly from a high of $1,768 per child in 1999 to $645 per child in 2017, adjusted for inflation.
The combination of a rising number of children with disabilities and chronic underfunding of IDEA has resulted in a greater financial burden on state and local agencies and programs – across all programs. States and local communities continue to provide required services to millions of children nationwide while offsetting the costs of needed services, and this has come at a great cost to schools and students.
Requiring states and communities to meet IDEA’s important requirements without providing the necessary federal funding leads to difficult choices that can impact the quality and frequency of service to children and families.
The special education funding crisis affects schools in numerous ways and the number of students being placed in special education with behavioral and mental health needs is sky rocketing. As the number of students displaying violent, aggressive, disruptive & dysregulated behavior continues to increase, Indiana schools are struggling to meet their needs.
Dr. Laura Hammack, superintendent of Beech Grove Schools shares, “We are seeing record numbers of very young students showing up with extreme needs. Additionally, the severity and frequency of the behaviors are far greater than we have ever seen in educational settings.”
Due to our lack of resources to serve this population, teachers and staff are getting really hurt by younger children.
– Franklin Community Schools Superintendent David Clendening
Dr. David Clendening, superintendent of Franklin Community Schools said the impact on staff over the last few years has been shocking and that impact during the teacher shortage has been devastating. “This isn’t the old days like when I was in school and what a lot of people remember. Due to our lack of resources to serve this population, teachers and staff are getting really hurt by younger children. I have one teacher seeing a neurologist after getting head butted and a bus driver experiencing PTSD after being assaulted by a student. The reality is that we are competing with McDonalds to try to fill these positions and we need legislative support to provide staff and students everything they need.”
It’s important to recognize that Indiana schools are held 100% accountable for meeting the federal guidelines, but only given a fraction of the resources required to do so. For programs serving students with violent, aggressive, disruptive & dysregulated behaviors, this becomes extremely difficult to navigate.
The reality of implementing these programs is far more expensive than other programs. Staff need additional training. These programs have high rates of turnover. Additionally, insurance costs go up due to providing so many staff workman’s compensation benefits and hazard pay. Additionally, facilities get overwhelmed by the large amounts of property that gets damaged or destroyed. This combination can be difficult for schools to navigate.
Hammack and Clendening teamed up with other fellow educators to support HB 1171, special education funding, authored by southern Indiana GOP Rep. Ed Clere. They feel so strongly about the need for additional funding in this area that they created a PSA clip, so others can better understand the impact that underfunding special education has on Indiana schools, students, teachers, and staff.
While that bill did not pass, it was incorporated into the state budget. A school funding hearing will be held on Thursday in Senate Appropriations after the chamber wraps for the day. This is the time for Hoosiers to speak on behalf of students with special needs.
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