Empire Center report: The problem with special education funding in N.Y.

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- A new report from the Empire Center for Public Policy is calling attention to the way New York distributes funding to school districts for special education. The state is incentivizing schools to put kids in special education programs in order to get more funding but more funding isn’t improving the quality of special education programs, according to the report.

An average of 13.7% of students in the U.S. are in special education programs. New York has the highest percentage of students in special education programs of any state, 19.2%.

Twenty-four percent of the state’s $66.2 billion K-12 education budget for the 2017-2018 school year went to special education. In total approximately $15.8 billion provided 489,491 students with disabilities special education, according to the report and data from the New York State Education Department (NYSED).

The additional spending did not mean the quality of special education programs in N.Y. was better in comparison to the rest of the states, said “Perverse Incentives, High Costs and Poor Outcome: Understanding and Improving Special Education in New York”, author, Ian Kingsbury. Federal studies indicate N.Y. students with disabilities receive lower-quality education and underperform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Students with a learning disability comprised the majority of the state’s disabled students in October 2018, 34.2%. Students with a speech/language impairment or other health conditions comprised 27.5% and 17% respectively, of the state’s disabled student population, according to NYSED.

Regardless of the student’s disability and severity of the condition, N.Y. awards school funding uniformly per student. This may look attractive to school districts seeking additional special education money by labeling children with mild cognitive deficiencies as needing special education services especially if providing those services are less expensive than the estimated average, said Kingsbury.

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