NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Rising Cost Of Special Education

March 26, 1999

Educating disabled students and those with learning problems -- whose numbers are rising swiftly -- imposes extra costs on schools. Moreover, the Supreme Court recently ordered schools to pay for disabled students' nursing care. So school officials are scrambling to find the necessary funds.

The costs are high.

  • Nearly six million of the 48 million pupils in grades kindergarten through 12 are in special education programs -- including about 17,000 who are so severely disabled that they may well require full-time nursing care.
  • Experts estimate that it costs an extra $15,000 per student to provide nursing care for those who require it.
  • Overall student enrollment has increased 15 percent this decade -- while the proportion of special education students has climbed 25 percent.
  • The federal government now pays 10 percent of the extra costs of special education students -- although current GOP budget resolutions would increase that to 40 percent.

The Department of Education estimates that federal, state and local governments spent as much as $35 billion on special education programs in the 1995-96 school year. Special education expenditures rose to 19 percent of school budgets in 1996 -- up from 17.8 percent in 1991. Over that time, spending on regular education fell from 58 percent to 56 percent.

That means that funds needed for books, smaller class sizes and school construction are being diverted.

Increasing numbers of children with behavior problems are being classified as having learning disabilities, although experts are far from agreement in their evaluations.

Source: Anna Bray Duff, "The Special Costs of Special Ed," Investor's Business Daily, March 26, 1999.


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