The Illinois State Board is tackling the issue of special education funding imbalances with a proposed move of $217,000 from a wealthy suburban school district to schools in need for the 2016-2017 school year. However, Illinois isn't the only state struggling. The US as a whole has highly under-resourced special education programs and schools. Quality is being sacrificed for quantity as well-qualified teachers are being replaced by underqualified teachers for the sake of filling a position.
According to District 35's President, Gary Ruben, though "it is not a good thing for the district," they are financially prepared to have it "built into the budget" and will "continue to provide all the services that [we] need to provide." On average, District 35 spends about $3.7 million a year, with an average budget of $25 million, as reported by Director of Finance Jason Edelheit. If the proposed redistribution takes place, District 35 will lose $126,840. Nonetheless, the ISBE claims it is the "most equitable mechanism in current statute," as it will benefit 77% of students with "the least amount of local wealth and highest concentration of low-income students." According to Daniel Dorfman, the North Shore is anticipated to feel this change, especially elementary school districts and New Trier high school.
Many of the layoffs in CPS negatively affects children who require special services. According to the Lauren Fitzgerald of the Chicago Sun-Times, 80 of the 227 layoffs were in the special education department with 29 of the 180 "district-wide vacancies eliminated." Although 19 special education managers were hired to replace the 32 that were cut, District spokeswoman Emily Bittner claims that the layoffs do not include "classroom positions," and that the needs of every child's "individualized education plan would still be met." According to Chief Forrest Claypool, the cuts are necessary due to the $480 million budget gap.
A North Side CPS principal claims that without special education managers, the support just isn't the same. Managers are responsible for observing kids and providing "human interface" when it comes to making important decisions such as child relocation to another program due to behavioral issues. The ever-changing and "evolving" needs are best handled and met by managers who know if a student needs more assistance, such as a personal aid or more technology.
Specialty schools are under-resourced enough, with a severe shortage of teachers whom districts can barely keep past two years. Due to the shortage, a large number of general education teachers will venture into special education to fill positions. But quantity is not quality. Special needs children are already dismissed by being thrown into general classrooms where their Individual Education Programs (IEPs) are not met, they are improperly dealt with, and lack proper resources. By replacing special-education teachers with those who lack experience in the field and a lack of financial resources, this problem will continue to grow.
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