Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country, but it has every other state beat by one measure: A higher percentage of its students are in special education than anywhere else.
An analysis of U.S. Department of Education data shows that the percentage of students in special education varies widely among states. While Rhode Island tops the country at 18 percent, Texas, at 9 percent, is at the bottom. The average percentage across all states is 13 percent, and two-thirds of states are above that number, according to the data.
Those differences could have major financial implications for states. Special education funding can account for up to 20 percent of school budgets, according to a 2010 report by the Economic Policy Institute. Overall funding for special education has remained mostly intact during the recession, but looming cuts at the federal level could spell trouble if state and local resources, which already pick up most of the tab for special education, are stretched even further. Already, several states have asked for federal exemptions to allow them to cut special education support.
Schools have fairly high discretion in identifying special education students within the federal guidelines, according to officials at the Department of Education. Changing understandings of the disabilities, themselves, can also have an impact. Autism has been among the fastest growing categories in special education, but some researchers say that a proposed change to its medical definition would halt that growth.
Read more of Ben Weider's Disability Scoop article HERE.