NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Incentives To Increase "Special Education" Children

September 28, 2000

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, passed in the mid-1970s, required school districts to identify and teach all children with learning disabilities or other handicaps. Since 1976, the proportion of children enrolled in special ed programs has lept from 8 percent of total enrollment to 13 percent in 1997.

Special education children now number 5.9 million nationwide.

Experts say schools are under pressure to identify such children because the more there are, the more benefits schools enjoy.

  • Enrolling children in special ed protects schools from lawsuits by parents or the government.
  • Having more special-ed students often means more money for schools.
  • Since the children's results on achievement tests are not counted, excluding their results can improve a school's performance.

Education Department data show that even while the number of children assigned to special-ed classes has been growing, the number of children identified as being mentally retarded has fallen 31 percent. Also, cases of speech or language impairments are down 19 percent since 1976.

Meanwhile, the number of children identified as having "specific learning disabilities" -- which is more difficult to define -- has jumped 343 percent since 1976.

Source: Benjamin Kepple, "Soaring Growth of 'Special Ed' Kids Raises Questions of Bias, Unfairness," Investor's Business Daily, September 28, 2000.


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