P.O. Box 909 ● Trenton, NJ 08605-0909 ● Phone: 609.695.7600 ● Fax: 609.695.0413 ● Web: www.njsba.org/PI
NJSBA Report Calls for Major Changes in Special Education Policy
TRENTON, September 20, 2007 - A report on special education costs and practices, released today by the New Jersey School Board Association, is calling for increased state funding to reduce property taxes, more in-district programs for severely disabled and autistic students, and more training for classroom teachers on special education methods.
"Expenditures for special education total $3.3 billion statewide; local school districts contribute 57 percent of that amount through local property taxes," said Edwina M. Lee, NJSBA executive director, citing one of the report’s findings.
"Special education requirements are dictated by state and federal laws," she continued. "Our schools need significantly higher levels of state and federal funding, so they can provide quality services without overburdening local property taxpayers."
Cost Drivers Major drivers of special education costs are tuition and transportation for students placed in facilities outside their home school districts, according to the study.
The report states out-of-district placements account for 10% of the special education population, but make up 40% of the cost of special education.
"New Jersey has the nation's highest percentage of special education students in separate settings," explained Lee. "The study recommends that the state government and local school districts invest in the development of more in-district programs and services for seriously disabled students, including programs for children with autism.
"There will always be a need for specialized schools," Lee continued. "However, special education students benefit both educationally and socially from interacting with their non-disabled peers. The report recommends that we create more programs to make that possible."
In addition, the report states that a growing number of programs for autistic students contributed to escalating costs over the past decade.
"Financing Special Education in New Jersey" was commissioned by the New Jersey School Boards Association in 2006. The report resulted from a year-long study that included collecting and analyzing data from the state and federal governments, surveying special education directors in more than half of the state’s school districts, and on site visits to more than 34 districts. The study was conducted by Dr. Mari Molenaar, an education researcher and statistician, and Michael Luciano, a special education consultant and administrator.
Molenaar and Luciano state that a funding source needs to be created that "would allow districts to select the research-based approach that is most comfortable for their community and ensure … a successful program. The state should expand its commitment to helping school districts establish these [autism] programs."
Funding System New Jersey's formula for distributing special education aid encourages the classification of students in higher-cost categories, the study also found.
The state's current formula consists of four funding levels, based on disability. The report recommends a different concept – a single funding factor, instead of four. The researchers believe that this concept would support the programs that students need, while eliminating incentives to classify them at levels where costs are higher.
Poverty Factor Significantly, the report identified poverty as an "extraneous" factor in special education classification and recommended that it not be used in distributing special education aid.
Training Molenaar and Luciano also identified a need for training general education teachers in special education practices and issues.
"Creating statewide training programs for general education teachers was, by far, the number one recommendation made by each special education director interviewed for this project," they wrote. "No longer is a referral for special education guaranteed to remove a child from the general education class. Training for general education teachers on special education topics is needed to support appropriate accommodations for the students…"
Other recommendations in the report address additional curricular enhancements, improvements to state and federal data collection, and changes in state regulation.
In addition, the report identifies 24 exemplary special education programs now in place in the state's public schools.
"Over the next few months, the Legislature is expected to consider a new school funding formula," explained NJSBA's Lee. "A critical issue will be special education.
"To adequately address this issue, we need data, much of which has never been collected and analyzed. That's why NJSBA invested in research to develop baseline information on financing and delivering special education, as well as best practices.
"NJSBA is proud to sponsor one of the most comprehensive reports on special education ever conducted in our state," Lee continued. "This study will provide vital information to local school districts, the state Department of Education and the state Legislature as we work to improve the funding and delivery of general and special education."
The report can be downloaded at www.njsba.org/specialeducation.
The New Jersey School Boards Association, a federation of district boards of education, advocates the interests of school districts, trains local school board members, and provides resources for the advancement of public education.