“It has come a long way,” said Farrell, the State Director of Special Education.
Special education students fall into 14 different categories, from visually impaired to students with autism. Farrell says those who fall within one of those categories are eligible for special education services in public schools.
“Based upon each student’s individual needs, a team of educators determines specific goals and objectives to go into an individualized education plan,” said Farrell.
And each plan comes at a different cost.
“The types of kids who are being identified now, many of them have higher needs, and therefore have higher costs,” said Bill Talbott, Agency of Education Deputy Secretary and Chief Financial Officer.
The projected special education spending this year is more than 290 million dollars. That's up almost 30 million dollars compared to four years ago.
Erin Maguire, the Executive Director of Student Support Services with the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union says that's because the need is increasing.
“I think one of the major areas of need we've seen increase pretty tremendously is in the area of emotional and behavioral challenges, and mental health issues,” said Maguire.
Maguire says that doesn't mean the number of students has risen dramatically. That's hovered close to 14 thousand in Vermont for the past few years. But students who need more personalized help mean a higher cost to the system.
“So you could have 20 students in one year, cost a certain amount. You could still have the same number of students the following year and just have swapped out two low cost students for two high cost students,” said Maguire.
Special education programs are federally mandated, so even as districts try to curb rising costs these programs aren't going away. And Farrell says investing in the children's future is a good way to spend money.
“It’s a good goal to be looking forward too, to provide services to all students based upon what they need,” said Farrell.
The projected spending for fiscal year 2015 is 15 million dollars more than this year.
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