How Budget Cuts Affect Special Education Programs

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By Blake Pappas

The cost of education for a child with disabilities can be double the amount needed for a child without disabilities.  Many students with special needs require multiple services such as classroom aides, counseling, specialized equipment, or access to health professionals during the day. Special education programs are often underfunded, leading to poor outcomes for students and repercussions for schools and communities. Unfortunately, many school districts today are seeing budget cuts, and these cuts exacerbate the challenges faced by special education programs and the students they serve.

One way that many school districts attempt to cut costs in special education is by placing special needs students in mainstream classrooms.  While this can be an effective tool to reduce spending, the effect on learning outcomes for special needs students can be negative and counterproductive.

The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which became federal law in 1990, protects disabled students and provides for their equal access to education.  It is important for special education teachers to know how to develop accurate plans for their students so they can gain the equal access guaranteed under federal law.  By effectively developing these plans, called Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), they can help to protect their programs and students from some of the negative effects of budget cuts.

Even though students with disabilities are guaranteed equal access to education under the law, budget constraints often affect special education programs more severely than other programs.  Already underfunded even in the best of budgetary times, these programs are now competing for ever scarcer funding.

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Blake Pappas completed his undergraduate degree in Justice Studies from Arizona State University, has worked in habilitation therapy and higher education, and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Business. Photo by Kim Cofino.