NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Analysis of Special Education's Rising Costs

January 4, 1996

Special Education programs are among the most emotional and controversial issues in education politics -- as well as among the fastest growing and most expensive items in school spending.

The goal of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1968 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 was to help handicapped children make it through school. Data show that the resulting funding formula and court rulings have created many problems in special education.

  • More than $280 billion has been spent by state, local and federal governments since the program's inception.
  • New York's special ed system uses 22 cents of every education dollar and employs one quarter of all school employees.
  • Special ed funding nationwide has grown from $5 billion in 1977 to almost $30 billion in 1995.
  • More than one in 10 children in America now qualifies for special education in some way.
  • While half the children in special education are deemed to have a "specific learning disability," some 40 percent of all children in the program are there simply because they don't know how to read.
  • The number of special ed students grew 45 percent from 1976 to 1994 -- to 5.4 million.
  • These students made up 12.1 percent of the student population in 1994, up from 8.3 percent in 1976.

Many educators see problems with the present system. A major problem is "mainstreaming" special ed students into general classes. The schools pocket the special ed money, and in many instances the classes, in effect, baby sit the special ed students. Critics note that special ed students demand a disproportionate share of teacher and classroom time. They also question whether a number of students are being labeled "disabled" by school districts simply in order to obtain extra funding.

Source: Matthew Robinson, "A Special Education Scandal?" Investor's Business Daily, January 4, 1996.


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