END THE SPECIAL-ED RACKET
October 22, 2009
A growing body of evidence indicates that much of the tremendous growth in special-education programs across the United States is the result of financial and other incentives, rather than a true increase in disabilities, say Marcus A. Winters and Jay P. Green, both senior fellows with the Manhattan Institute. They also point to new research that suggest that school vouchers targeted to disabled students could reduce this artificial growth, saving taxpayers money and keeping kids from the sting of being mislabeled as disabled.
- Between 1977 and 2007, the percentage of students enrolled in federally supported disability programs increased by more than two-thirds.
- Such programs now serve 13.8 percent of public school students in the United States. Much of this growth has come in a single category known as Specific Learning Disability (SLD), which includes conditions such as perceptual handicaps, developmental aphasia, and dyslexia.
- In the last three decades, SLD diagnoses have increased from 1.88 percent to 5.4 percent of all public school students; they now account for 40 percent of students in special education.
Since special-education students cost more to educate, growth in special education rolls has been blamed for a substantial portion of the increase in public education spending, say Winters and Green:
- New York State spends and average of $14,413 per year more to educate a disabled student than a regular-enrollment student.
- Schools receive additional resources to enroll "special education," thereby providing incentives for schools to label marginal students as disabled if doing so will bring in more money than it costs in additional services.
- A University of California study by Julie Berry Cullen, found that financial incentives to diagnose students as disabled explained as much as 40 percent of the growth in special education in Texas during the 1990s.
School-voucher policies targeted to disabled students can reduce the financial incentive for over-diagnosis because they would let a student diagnosed with a learning disability leave the school, taking all of the money with him, say Winters and Green:
- Currently, more than 21,000 special-education students in Florida, Georgia and Utah use taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay at least part of their tuition at a private school.
- Recent research shows that Florida schools have responded to its voucher program by reducing the number of students they report as having SLDs.
- When a private school willing to accept state vouchers opens near a public school, the public school becomes significantly less likely to classify a student as having SLD-presumably for fear of loosing the student and the funding they bring.
Source: Marcus A. Winters and Jay P. Greene, "End the Special—Ed Racket," The National Review, October 19, 2009; and "How Special Ed Vouchers Keep Kids From Being Mislabeled as Disabled," Manhattan Institute, Civic Report No. 58, August 2009.
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