A new bill on Gov. Corzine’s desk will create a 13-member reading disabilities task force that will study how best to educate students who have specific reading and language disabilities. Senator Jeff Van Drew of Cape May County, who helped usher the bill through the Legislature, is quoted in The Record: “Special education classes are too costly and inappropriate for students who are only being held back because of a reading disability. Rather than providing generic special education to kids who should be classified differently, we must focus our limited educational resources to meet the students’ unique needs.”
This bill harkens back to a 2007 NJSBA study, “Financing Special Education in New Jersey,” that points out that New Jersey has the 4th highest classification rate in the country for students deemed eligible for special education services, 16.8% in 2006. This new bill intends, in part, to provide appropriate reading programs so that districts avoid the expense of classifying kids, and kids avoid potential exclusion and lower academic expectations.
Will Bill A-880/S-2400 do anything to mitigate the eye-popping disparity in special education classification rates between wealthy districts and poor districts? N.J. classified 16.8% of our state population in 2006. However, Moorestown High School classifies 12.4% of their kids and Camden City High School classifies 32.9% of their kids. What’s the difference? Moorestown is a rich town (rated as an “I” District Factor Group on a scale from A-J) and Camden is a poor town (DFG of “A”). Does poverty explain a tripled rate of disability? Are schools over-classifying kids to cash in on the extra federal and state aid accorded to children with disabilities? Beats us.