Legislative Analyst Office Releases Report on Special Education in California

On November 6, 2019 the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) released their report Overview of Special Education in California which aims to inform fiscal and policy discussions in light of the legislature’s requirement to come up with a number of reforms “to improve academic outcomes of individuals with exceptional needs.” Some of the expected reforms codified in last years budget bill (SB 75) include:

  1. The role of special education local planning areas (SELPA’s) in the delivery of special education services, including increasing their accountability and incorporating them into a statewide system of support.
  2. Expansion of inclusive practice to ensure that every individual with exceptional needs has access to learn in the least restrictive environment.
  3. Opportunities for school districts to receive state and federal support to address disproportionate identification and placement of African American and other student subgroups, as well as disproportionate rates of discipline.
  4. Review of how funds are allocated for special education programs.

Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services and the state spends $13 billion to provide those services. However, the report found that despite the level of spending students with disabilities are not faring so well as many school districts reported poor outcomes for their students with disabilities. The majority of students with disabilities in California were reported as having “relatively mild conditions” while at the same time the number of students with “relatively severe disabilities” increased notably. The notable increase in students with severe disabilities is largely due to a significant rise in the number of students with autism (now about 1 in 50 as compared to 1 in 600 20 years ago).

Among the findings in the report is the fact that the suspension rate for students with disabilities is almost double the statewide rate for all students. In addition, students with disabilities have high rates of absenteeism with almost 1 in 5 missing 10% or more of the school year. This finding is particularly alarming because if we want to improve academic outcomes we have to start by first making sure the students are in school.

The full report:
https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2019/4110/overview-spec-ed-110619.pdf

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