Study Finds Major Gaps In New York’s Special Education Spending

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ROCHESTER (WXXI) – There are major gaps in special education spending in New York. A study by the New York State Association of School Business Officials found that spending in wealthier districts for special needs students was almost double the spending in more impoverished districts. 

“Special education spending in the lowest need districts is $43,635 per special education pupil while spending in the highest need districts is $25,823 per special education pupil,” wrote researchers of the study.

And this translates into major gaps of achievement. 80 percent of special needs students in wealthier districts graduate, while just 40 percent of special needs students graduate from lower-income districts. They’re also less likely to score high on state testing.

“The cost of educating high needs students is going to be twice as much, three times as much as educating a general education student,” said Michael Borges, Executive Director of NYSABO. “In those same communities with a high degree of high needs students [they] don’t have the local resources to do that. That’s why you see a disparity in what they spend per pupil.”

And these impoverished districts are much more likely to have high need students. These students can have autism, speech and language impairments or learning disabilities. For inner city districts, this may include students who are recent immigrants and are still learning English. City districts are more likely to attract high needs students but have little resources to fulfill those needs.

That’s where the Foundation Aid formula comes in. It was created in 2007 out of a Campaign for Fiscal Equality lawsuit. The program supplements local districts’ income, meaning districts in impoverished areas can get extra funding to get on an even footing with districts that have a larger or wealthier tax base.

However, the next year the recession hit and the program has been unable to secure the funding needed.

“We’re still unfortunately $4.2 billion behind in doing that,” said Borges. “We’re concerned that as time goes on that number will continue to grow so we need to start making significant down payments on paying off the Foundation Aid formula it’s owed.”

He said as the gaps in funding grow, so do gaps in achievement and graduation. He suggested state officials have to make large changes in the coming year to get the formula the funding support it needs to help New York students. But Borges says that although students and families may not be able to control how much their district gets in aid, parents can still help by being involved in their child’s education.

“I think it really comes down to parental involvement the more involved parents are in their children’s education, the better off that child will be regardless of their socioeconomic background or location or special needs. If the parent isn’t advocating for their child, their child won’t succeed.”

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