History, funding, staffing of SPED
The modern system of special education in the United States arose out of inconsistent and sometimes horrific treatment of children with disabilities. Educational opportunities varied depending on the state or locality in which a child lived, as well as the severity of his or her disability. A child with a relatively mild learning disability was likely to be placed in a regular classroom, with no assistance to keep up with peers. Those with more severe disabilities were often institutionalized or placed in schools for the “retarded,” while others received no education at all because schools were allowed to refuse them entry.
After parents and disability rights groups organized around the issue and states such as Oregon began to take steps at the local level, Congress acted to ensure all children received a “free, appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment.”
This is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Court decisions place additional mandates
In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled parents can seek reimbursement of private school expenses when the local school district cannot meet the FAPE standard. The nation’s top court has also ruled catheterization and “continuous nursing service” must be provided under IDEA.
Restraint and seclusion
As courts asked more from school districts, horror stories emerged of children placed in closets or strapped to chairs for long periods throughout the school day.
In 2011, OSEA supported legislation severely curtailing the use of restraint and seclusion. The bill passed the Oregon Legislature with bipartisan support. Prone, mechanical and chemical (drug) restraint are now banned outright, and physical restraint can only be used in instances where there is likelihood of imminent harm to the student or others. Strict reporting is required when restraint is used.
Inadequate SPED Funding
The assumption underlying IDEA is the cost of educating children with disabilities is about twice the average cost of other children. In 1981, Congress determined the federal government would pay up to 40 percent of the excess costs (full funding). Federal funding has never come close to this goal.
Oregon similarly funds special education by doubling the average per-pupil allocation, but caps funding at 11 percent of the student body. The average school district has a SPED population of 13.4 percent. All told, 152 of 176 districts with SPED students report SPED populations of at least 11 percent.
Staffing Hasn’t Kept Pace with Expanding Student Population
Reflecting the devastating financial impact of the Great Recession, the full-time equivalent of teachers and other specialists assigned to special education fell from 2006-07 levels. The result: Oregon schools in 2013-14 had significantly less teachers, occupational and physical therapists, psychologists, social workers and counselors dedicated to students with developmental disabilities.