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By Sarah C. Threnhauser

Friday, October 14, 2011

A recent headline in The Wall Street Journal, Wave of New Disabilities Swamps School Budgets made me think about the challenges for school budgets – and the opportunities for the field – in addressing the learning needs of children with disabilities. But, the problem is shifting along with the solution.

The Wall Street Journal article relied on data from a May 2011 report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Shifting Trends in Special Education), which found that in 2009-10, 6.48 million students had a disability (about 13% of the entire national student body). Of those students with a disability, most (about 37%) were categorized as having a specific learning disability – meaning a disorder of one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, including brain injury and dyslexia.

While students with autism made up about only 6% of the total population of students with disabilities, the growth of autism has outpaced all other disabilities – between 2001 and 2010, the number of students with autism increased by 306% (from 98,000 students to 378,000 students).

All of these disabilities are taking an increasing share of available school funding and is straining the special-education resources of school districts, which are legally prohibited from factoring in cost when deciding how to address a student’s special needs. The Fordham Institute’s report estimates that in 2005, 21% of all education expenditures were for students with disabilities ($110 billion). And between 1996 and 2005, about 40% of all new education spending was for special education services.

As I look at this situation, the question is one of value. What organizations can provide the same or better educational results for a lower cost. If your organization has the talent, this may be an area of potential opportunity to consider in your next strategic plan.


Sarah C. Threnhauser
Executive Vice President, OPEN MINDS

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