Another new analysis, this one based on a report from the U.S. DOE, unpacks discrepancies among states regarding the percentage of children classified as eligible for special education services. The winner (or loser, I suppose) is Rhode Island, which classifies 18.4% of its kids. New Jersey is 5th, with a classification rate of 17.1%. In between are Massachusetts (18%), New York (17.3%), and Maine (17.3%). The states with the lowest classification rates are Texas (8.9%), Idaho (9.5%), Colorado (10.3%), Georgia (10.3%), and Nevada (10.3%).
This report considers the impact of funding models on classification rates, noting that “many states give districts additional money for each special education student or service they provide, which some lawmakers and researchers think encourages over-identification.”
Since the passage of the School Funding Reform Act, New Jersey has used a census-based model. (Earlier coverage here.) Instead of doling out special education aid based on individual need, regardless of district of residence, we now calculate state aid for kids with disabilities based on a percentage above cost-per-pupil. The theory of the census-based model is that we’ll control our special ed costs by discouraging over-classification.
Seven other states use this model. Four of the seven, according to this report, have special ed percentages below the national average. But the three others – Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – “have among the top six rates in the country.”
There’s other reasons why the census-based model isn’t working for us. Kids who grow up in high-poverty homes tend to have higher rates of disability (although that’s a can of worms) and our vibrant industry of private special education schools may create clusters of children with high-cost disabilities like autism.
Back in November the NJ DOE released a report from an independent consulting firm, Augenblick Palaich and Associates, that tried to assess the effectiveness of our census-based model for funding special education services. The report concluded that our system was “fundamentally flawed” and we’d be better off basing funding on actual need. This new analysis confirms those conclusions.