Which school do you want to support?
Many issues can interfere with a child’s learning, from learning disabilities to mental and physical health issues to family tragedies to difficulties with peers.
Many of these challenges can only be addressed effectively on an individual basis. This kind of help requires expertise, patience, and sensitivity. Teachers do what they can, but sometimes more help is needed.
You might remember receiving help from a counselor or school nurse during your childhood, but few California public schools provide that kind of service anymore, a reality that the pandemic brought into sharp focus. In most schools, if there are counselors at all, a central role of the job is to point people in the right direction to get help from someone else, often externally.
Trained counselors are pretty scarce. In 2019, the ratio of students per counselor in this state averaged 626 to 1, but the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1. (More data at kidsdata.org.) Nationally comparable data for that year are not available yet, but a 2015 analysis suggests this ratio puts the state in the running for last in the nation.
And what about that school nurse? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum of one full-time registered nurse in every school. However, in California, the ratio of students to nurses in 2019 was 2,410 to one. More than half of the school districts in California do not employ even one nurse.
Students with disabilities need help. In education lingo, the word for this kind of help is accomodations. Sometimes the level of help required can be provided by teachers, such as allowing a student more time to complete work. In other cases, the help required calls for more expertise. Here are two major laws you should know about:
Named after a provision in the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, "section 504" is a civil rights law that prevents discrimination in access to education due to a disability. Who may be eligible for extra help? Examples include students with a physical or mental impairment that may interfere with a "major life activity" like reading, walking, concentrating, speaking, or breathing. Think asthma or an illness like arthritis. Even students that earn good grades may be eligible. More recently, there have been efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen section 504. In order to protect the rights of students under section 504, the U.S. Department of Education reached out to the public for any suggested amendments to the regulations.
Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)
Commonly known as special education, the Federal IDEA law governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities nationally. A major feature of this law is the requirement to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for qualified students.
Each of these laws has separate eligibility requirements. A student who is not eligible for special education may be eligible for a 504 plan. (Yes, this is part of the reason why parents of students that need extra support sometimes become education policy nerds.) Check this summary that lays out the differences.
Early identification and support for struggling students is essential, but how does that actually happen? California has a chronic shortage of teachers with special education training. In practice, elementary school teachers in regular classrooms are responsible for spotting and helping children who need special help, frequently without the professional training and support they need. A child who is struggling may be referred for an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education or a 504 plan.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, many parents don't follow up on teachers' recommendations to have their child professionally evaluated. In 2015, a State Task Force on Special Education highlighted these issues. It recommended:
Parents of young children, and their teachers, can play an important role in helping to identify and address potential learning issues early if they know what to look for.
If your son or daughter needs special education services, it can be very helpful to keep good notes with things like contact information, notes from meetings with teachers, and report cards. For guidance about what good notes look like for a parent of a student with a disability or disorder, watch this video from Understood.org.
Students with autism face challenges at school that go beyond academics. For example, these students are disproportionately involved in bullying incidents — as the bully, as the victim, or both. A set of studies by the Interactive Autism Network in March 2012 suggests that this issue is particularly important for students with Asperger's syndrome, a former diagnosis now subsumed within the autism spectrum.
Boys are about four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism, according to a 2014 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Students with autism are not automatically eligible for accommodations. Eligibility requires formal assessment by a psychologist, who can determine whether a student's autism adversely affects their education. If they are not eligible for special education services, however, they may be eligible for a 504 plan.
The number of students identified with more severe disabilities have almost doubled since 2000-01. According to a 2019 report by the California Legislative Analyst, this increase is due largely to a rise in autism, which affected about 1 in 600 students in 1997-98 compared to about 1 in 50 students in 2017-18. In addition, the CDC supports this finding through their 2000-2018 report of the increase in autism.
Reading is a core skill for learning, and students who have difficulty reading are at a great disadvantage in school. It can be difficult for teachers to discern the root cause when a student struggles with reading. Dyslexia is common; by some generous estimates, it affects as many as 15-20% of us, frequently undetected. Many students struggle without knowing why, or what to do about it.
Most states require schools to screen all students for risk of dyslexia, but (as of this review in early 2023) California is not among them. It is particularly challenging to spot dyslexia in students who are learning English. The California Department of Education provides resources such as the California Diagnostic Center and CALIReads. The California Dyslexia Guidelines includes a detailed explanation of dyslexia and how California's education system supports students. (It's a long document. Jump to page 81 for practical advice about things you can try at home.)
These obligations are real and may not be ignored. In 2017 the US Supreme Court clarified in a unanimous decision that an IEP must be specially designed to meet the unique needs of children:
"A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives."
Nationally, about 15% of students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). California identifies fewer.
Different states have different processes to guide how a district identifies a student as having special needs, and the percentage of students identified varies accordingly. Nationally, about 15% of students have an IEP. California districts identify fewer special education students, about 13% of enrollment as of 2020, according to KidsData.org.
In order to evaluate learning progress for all students, students with disabilities or learning differences are been included in annual testing. Students can be given extra time or other accommodations (such as having the test read to them) in order to enable them to participate in and complete the test. A small fraction of disabled students is given a different test, the California Alternate Assessment (CAA). (See Lesson 9.3 for more.)
The special needs of gifted students are frequently overlooked. There is no special funding for gifted students in California, but some school districts set aside money to create programs or services for them. (Learn more about gifted students in the Ed100 blog.)
In the early decades of federal funding for special education, students were designated as having "special needs" in a rather binary way — students were deemed to have either them or not. With time and further studies into disabilities and disorders, these definitions and approaches have matured. Increasingly, teachers and school leaders have concluded that everyone learns a little differently. For some, learning a melody is easy, but mastering a math concept is hard. For some, math is easy but names are hard to remember. Increasingly, teachers are using the term learning difference rather than disability to discuss how students learn.
Great teachers learn to present concepts in flexible ways so that they engage all of their students, get them involved in their own learning, and permit them to show their understanding in different ways. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mentions this approach under the label Universal Design for Learning (UDL). ESSA did not attach new funds or incentives to the UDL approach, but its use of the term has raised its profile.
The cost of providing special education services varies significantly among schools and districts. Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services — about one in every eight students.
According to 2019 estimates by the California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), the average annual cost of educating a student with disabilities is almost triple the cost to educate a student without disabilities.
Federal and state funds specifically for special education don't fully cover the costs. Local funds contribute, too.
Federal and state funds specifically for special education don't fully cover the costs, and the portion of the cost of special education that is locally funded grew from 49 percent of the cost in 2007-08 to 61 percent in 2017-18. This unreimbursed portion is sometimes insensitively called encroachment or encumbrance, terms that irritate families whose children have special needs.
The state budget for 2022-23 mitigated this issue somewhat, adding about $150 per student for special education.
The state funding model (LCFF) doesn't include special education.
Money is allocated to school districts based on the total number of children attending, regardless of students' disability status. This policy creates a bittersweet problem for schools that do a great job of educating students with disabilities. If their success becomes well known, eventually they will attract more families that want a great program for their kids. A district can become a victim of its own success.
The state funding model doesn't vary state or federal money in response to individual learning needs: it assumes that students with special needs are evenly distributed among the general population across the state. The logic of this policy is to avoid creating incentives to label kids, but it’s a flawed assumption with an unequal impact. There are patterns in which students are evaluated for disabilities: Many students from marginalized groups do not receive the resources they are eligible for.
To help mitigate these financial impacts, and also to create some economies of scale related to uncommon and high-cost disabilities (such as blindness), the state distributes disability funding through a regional network more than 130 Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPAs). State law requires that every school district, county office of education, and charter school belong to a SELPA. Most of the state's largest school districts have their own SELPA; smaller districts join together and negotiate the use of funds for students.
SELPAs receive widely varying funding per student. The reasons for this variation are grounded in historic practices, and calls for change have been growing louder with time. In 2015, a much-anticipated task force recommended a major overhaul of the special education system, including specific actions to equalize funding and address the shortcomings of the SELPA system. It also called for additional funding.
The task force findings led to additional research; in 2018 analysis of California's special education system was included as part of the Getting Down to Facts II group of studies. In 2019 a group of policy researchers further expanded the scope of inquiry with a set of 13 studies that collectively take a broader view. Changes to the SELPA system are necessary, they conclude, but not sufficient. In particular, the researchers highlight the need for better data, improved teacher training, and interagency collaboration with child-serving systems beyond schools.
In his proposal for the 2020-21 budget, Governor Newsom called for an increase in base funding, funding for dyslexia research, teacher training, and investments in services for preschool-age children with disabilities. The pandemic of 2020 created tremendous challenges for the mental health of students, educators and parents. Responding to these pressures, the booming budget of 2021-22 increased funding for districts to train and hire special education teachers. Funding also increased for counseling and psychiatric services.
In 2021, Wested updated its research in this area. For current developments in special education policy, follow the topic on EdSource.
When children have special needs, families struggle to figure out the financial implications of supporting them. If they can, some families hire consultants to help them navigate the system. The Simple Dollar, which focuses on family financial planning, offers some free advice.
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Jeff Camp - Founder February 24, 2023 at 3:06 pm
Carol Kocivar January 9, 2023 at 4:00 pm
One size does not fit all – inconsistent effects of inclusion on learning and psychosocial adjustment of children with special needs. Many disability advocates disagree .https://hechingerreport.org/proof-ponts-new-research-review-questions-the-evidence-for-special-education-inclusion/?utm_source=The+Hechinger+Report&utm_campaign=356ffc7a83-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2023_01_06_07_46&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_-356ffc7a83-%5BLIST_EMAIL_ID%5D
Carol Kocivar August 4, 2022 at 12:55 pm
The special education base funding now calculated at the local level, rather than the SELPA level.
Increased ($14 million on going) and consolidated extraordinary cost pools.
Beginning in 2023-24, allocating Educationally Related Mental Health Services funding directly to local educational agencies rather than to SELPAs.
Developing addition to Local Control and Accountability Plan to support inclusive planning and promote cohesion between special education and general education planning.
Focusing a special education IEP best practices, and establishing an expert panel to continue the work of creating a model IEP template.
Establishing a pathway to a diploma for students who take the California Alternate Assessment and providing resources to identify alternative coursework options for students with disabilities to demonstrate completion of the state graduation requirements.
Carol Kocivar August 4, 2022 at 1:01 pm
Carol Kocivar June 14, 2022 at 12:47 pm
December 17, 2021 - This brief provides background on the state’s current funding allocation formula for special education, describes funding formulas used in other states, establishes a framework for evaluating these formulas, and offers some issues for the Legislature to consider.
Carol Kocivar June 5, 2022 at 3:26 pm
Important findings that " on average, states with proportionally larger populations of children and children living in poverty, children identified for special education, and non-White and Black children receive fewer federal dollars, both per pupil and per student receiving special education.
Carol Kocivar May 14, 2022 at 1:56 pm
Sonya Hendren July 11, 2020 at 1:23 pm
afrinier February 16, 2020 at 11:35 am
DerekandRebeccasDad November 21, 2019 at 10:53 pm
Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh October 25, 2019 at 9:24 pm
Jeff Camp January 6, 2020 at 11:27 pm
Selisa Loeza October 22, 2021 at 9:14 pm
Carol Kocivar May 28, 2018 at 9:54 am
Read the Ed100 is brief
Carol Kocivar March 3, 2018 at 5:05 pm
History of Special Education Funding
Carol Kocivar January 14, 2018 at 10:45 am
"California currently provides early intervention services to more than 40,000 infants and toddlers with special needs. California’s system for serving these infants and toddlers involves three programs operated by two types of local agencies—schools and regional centers. Some parts of this system date back more than 35 years. During this time, the state has not regularly, or even periodically, evaluated this system. We undertook a comprehensive review and found California's bifurcated system results in notable service delays.
Read the Report:
Evaluating California's System for Serving Infants and Toddlers With Special Needs
Kenny May 9, 2018 at 11:33 am
Carol Kocivar September 19, 2017 at 11:43 am
(Note: the lesson was updated with this information)
Jeff Camp March 23, 2017 at 10:13 am
David Siegrist1 April 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm
Jeff Camp November 29, 2016 at 9:50 pm
As usual, EdSource boils it down: Under the recommendation, "State money for special education would be folded into the Local Control Funding Formula, completing [Governor] Brown’s goal of creating a unified funding system for all children."
Here's more about it:
PPIC report: http://www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=873
Task Force recommendations: http://www.smcoe.org/about-smcoe/statewide-special-education-task-force/
EdSource summary: https://edsource.org/2016/send-special-ed-funding-directly-to-districts-not-regional-agencies-report-says/573361
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 6:12 pm
There may be a subset which really do improve & perhaps some who get nothing out of it. How do we identify those?
Jeff Camp - Founder April 28, 2016 at 11:39 am
kellysakir March 7, 2016 at 1:49 pm
Carol Kocivar November 14, 2015 at 10:58 am
Identifying children with dyslexia as early as first grade could narrow or even close the achievement gap with typical readers, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Yale University. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151102184216.htm
2. Dyslexia California Law 2015:
AB 1369 requires the superintendent of public instruction to develop program guidelines for dyslexia. These will describe the characteristics typical of students with dyslexia and outline strategies to address them. They are expected to include information to assist educators in distinguishing between characteristics of dyslexia and characteristics of normal growth and development. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/asm/ab_1351-1400/ab_1369_bill_20151008_chaptered.pdf
geecookie2011 April 18, 2015 at 7:53 am
I speak and come from a child who this is his desire to do to be part of and to go to school to truly and really learn. Notbe and feel limited.
Ms Helenmarie “Cookie” a mother of 4 with child living with DS T21 and other complications and a Grandmother of 4
amosmickey April 14, 2015 at 12:03 pm
Veli Waller April 3, 2015 at 9:36 pm
Mamabear March 19, 2015 at 5:19 pm
Carol Kocivar - Ed100 March 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm
The report recommends changes to seven parts of the educational system:
• Early Learning
• Evidence based schools and classroom practices
• Educator participation and professional learning
• Family and Student Engagement
• Special Education Financing
For more information, go to: http://www.smcoe.org/about-smcoe/statewide-special-education-task-force/
Brandi Galasso March 5, 2015 at 7:31 am
jenzteam February 27, 2015 at 10:18 am
RE bullying and counselors - I feel our school is great at addressing both. HOWEVER - that said, we only have 600 kids at our school. Not 4000 like the other public school we could have chosen. These high school numbers are insane and I would have home schooled if putting our son in a school with 4000 kids was my only option.
Sherry Schnell January 22, 2015 at 9:52 am
eastwestpa February 4, 2015 at 12:53 pm
jenzteam February 27, 2015 at 10:22 am