Tuesday, February 17, 2004


A Go Big Ed reader responded to Monday's story about rising costs in K-12 education in Nebraska by pointing toward special education:

''Don't forget about the increased costs over the years for the special ed programs. Very labor intensive and I don't think most people realize how much of the budget goes for various parts of it. Certainly I have never broken it down, but knowing people who have gone into special ed and hearing various others who work with it discuss aspects of it, I know it has to be a real budget buster. In many cases, it amounts to a very expensive babysitting service. This doesn't mean I don't have compassion for those suffering from these disabilities, but it does indeed cost a lot of money and I have a hunch a lot of the increase in spending, with fewer students, is due to this.''

Could she be right?

What percentage of the kids labeled ''special ed'' really have medical problems that interfere with their learning ability, or give them special challenges? Nobody would ever contest their right to having those bona fide needs met, within reason, at public expense. Make sure that's straight. In contrast, though, what percentage of kids labeled ''special ed'' are normal medically, but have actually been ''instructionally disabled'' – MADE to have learning problems because of the wrong methods of teaching the basics in the itty bitty grades?

Evidence from all over indicates that the ratio is close to 25 percent bona fide special ed . . . and 75 percent of those "disabled" students actually fully or partially ''instructionally-related.''

You can chart it by the appalling rise in the numbers of children labeled as having ''specific learning disability.'' Most of them can't read very well but have normal intelligence. A very good case could be made – with science, with brain scans, with empirical evidence – that there's nothing wrong with most of those children that good schooling couldn't have prevented and even now can't fix.

But we’re still pouring millions down a rathole doing the things that are MAKING them ''special ed.'' And ''The Blob'' -- the education bureaucracy -- won't fix it, because if schools did a better job for more kids and fewer kids needed special ed services, there'd be less money in it for THEM.


I wish every state senator had the guts to demand a printout from the State Education Department on how many special ed kids in their districts have medical diagnoses – mental retardation, physical handicaps, speech problems – and how many are simply labeled the nebulous ''specific learning disability.''

I bet it'd be a real eye opener, because in some areas, it’s 80 percent ''phony special ed,'' and 20 percent bona fide. They used to publish this for all to see. They don't anymore. Wonder why? Duhhh.

As for actual spending, here's what another check of the statewide audited financial reports from Nebraska school districts showed about special education, or ''SPE,'' and you can see for yourself on http://ess.nde.state.ne.us/SchoolFinance/AFR/search/afr.htm:

Nebraska K-12 districts, total SPED instruction, 1992-93:


Increase in 10 years: 91 percent

Nebraska K-12 districts, SPED school-age transportation, 1992-93:


SPED transportation, 2002-03:


Increase in 10 years: 76 percent

Nebraska K-12 districts, preschool SPED, 1992-93:




Increase in 10 years: 85 percent

I realize most of this is to take care of the enormous unfunded mandates handed down by the feds in exchange for their paltry few bucks in partial (very partial) reimbursement for SPED programming. Those mandates, you'll note, are coming close to damaging or even ruining the educational atmosphere for gifted and normal kids, too, and for federal pennies on the dollar of what those mandates actually cost us in state and local taxes.

So they're forcing us to ruin our own educational system, using mostly our own money.

Put a pencil to paper. Enrollment in Nebraska schools has stayed basically flat for the past decade, but spending has darn near doubled, 'way over the rate of inflation. Yes, a disproportionate share of the spending increases have come in SPED. So ask yourself:

Has the number of disabled kids really nearly doubled in our state in the last decade?

Does it really cost THAT much to meet their learning needs?

Or are we just gerbils on a verrrrry expensive federal wheel, going nowhere, with what's left of our money flying out of our pockets at every revolution?

Speaking of revolutions . . . you'll like tomorrow’s story. It’s about SOLUTIONS.

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