Why is the education of kids with disabilities so completely and thoroughly screwed up?


There's gold
in them there labels

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As Deep Throat once said, "Follow the money."

An Incentive to 'Overidentify'

Handicapitalism is alive and well in special education. We didn't unearth this core but well-hidden truth until we were yay many weeks into researching -- and only a week away from publishing -- our special ed issue. (See how well obscured are the motives or anyone who 'helps' us?)
Following the money explains a helluva lot. Schools and school districts have a huge financial incentive to label and segregate our kids. We're surprised there's not a handicap quota. And maybe there is... we didn't get that deep.

Here's data from the Center for Special Education Finance
CSEF, the Center for Special Education Finance, has a fine website where you can download publications tracking dollars in Special Ed, http://csef.air.org.
Mouth picked a few stats from from their report, "State Special Education Finance Systems 1994-1995." [Recent numbers unavailable. See below.]
The reported state appropriation per special ed student ranged from a low of $210 in West Virginia to a high of $5,518 in Alaska. The average was $2,414.
All but one of the 42 reporting states used Medicaid as another source of special ed revenue. Fewer than one quarter of the states provided estimates of their Medicaid revenue.
The highest percentage of Medicaid revenue in relation to a state's overall special ed expenditures was 16 percent in Louisiana.
Over a quarter of the states reported using state mental health funds and/or private medical insurance for special ed revenue.
States use various systems to calculate their payments into Special Education programs. In "pupil weighting systems," the report said, "incentives can be created to misclassify students into specific types of placements or into categories of disability that receive higher reimbursement (e.g., more restrictive settings that receive higher weights)." Misclassification of this type is called "overidentification" and is not yet punishable under criminal law.
The most recent large-scale collection of data on state special ed expenditures was during the 1985-1986 school year. The federal government subsequently stopped requiring its collection because the data was deemed to be inaccurate.
CSEF did not say what Mouth would say to states about that last bit: "Liars, liars, pants on fires."


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'Twenty-two places to sit!"

Notes from a special ed budget reviewer in a very small town
by an anonymous but reputable source

Our school district's Administration of Special Education each year files a request for equipment. This form is called "LEA consolidated application for special education and related services," (take a breath here) "state equalization aid and Title VI-B." Title VI-B means federal funds. In ten years our special ed department has requested $240,078 worth of equipment on those forms. Let's see what this equipment has been used for.

Psychology services $ 3,002
$ 163
Student classrooms
$ 31,630
P/T and O/T
$ 27,289
Equipment for the
of special ed
$ 177,994


And what did this small school administration buy with $177,994?
Fact: there are eleven (11) people in Special Ed Admin. All of this equipment was purchased with federal $$ except one $400 desk.

[Note: The writer appended a 3-page list, and ended with a quote from Jesse Ventura, "It is good to be king." Here are a few items from that list. -- editor]

Several laser printers, one of them for $3,200; two copiers totaling $32,100; one speaker phone for $221; three executive desks for $1,277; three credenzas for $1,390; one "door hutch" for $450; three bookcases for $675; three executive chairs for $1,500; two swivel chairs for $350; one love seat for $250; 13 side chairs $450; two secretary chairs for $373.

[As the writer notes, "22 places to sit!"]


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And why the epidemic in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
Wring your hands and moan, 'Money!'

Notes from an interview with Kathy Whitbread

"To overpathologize children, to take normal human behavior and label it... it's primarily an issue where teachers are trying to get that quiet class, with everyone listening to what the teacher says. Then there's the kid who wiggles. Or the kid who talks out.

"The prevalent practice, once kids are labeled, is to pull them out of regular class into a special setting. Or medicate them.

"We've invested a lot of time and money in those segregated settings. In order to keep them going, we need to keep labeling kids and placing them in those programs.

"At the federal level, every label is financially equal. Emotional Disorder is the kiss of death label. Even for kids with legitimate issues and horrible life experience, once they have that label, they are likely to be segregated.

"ADHD is an overused label because the diagnosis is based on subjective checklists. A school nurse said to me that if you pass that list out at a party, then half the people in the room are going to have ADHD. It tracks normal behaviors that we all exhibit."

Kathy Whitbread, Ph.D., is editor of The Inclusion Notebook. Check their website at http://www.pennycorner.com.


Steve Taylor, of the Center on Human Policy at Syracuse University, said this: "As you know, disability is big business. There are financial incentives for schools to label kids. IDEA is a 'categorical law' -- you have to be categorized, labeled, to get the services, and for the schools to get the funding. Haven't you noticed the speech impairment epidemic that's sweeping the country?"


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Federal money, state money, special money

For fiscal year 1999, the U.S. Department of Education allocated $690 per special ed child under Part B of IDEA. More than 6 million children were labeled for special ed services.

States do even more. In Illinois in 1991 (the best figures we have), state tax dollars provided four times more income ($426 million) than federal dollars ($103 million). Local school districts ponied up $43 million that year for special ed. Note that today Medicaid is a source of funding for special ed. Medicaid was not a factor in that 1991 study.

During the school year of 1996-1997 (the most recent year where figures are available) dis-labeled kids were educated as follows:

In a regular classroom 46%

[Part-time] in a resource room 28%

In a separate class 21%

In a separate facility, publicly operated 2%

In a separate facility, privately operated 1%

In a public residential facility .4%

In a private residential facility .2%

In a home or hospital .5%

The IDEA Full Funding Act of 2000 (House Bill 4055) increases funding per student by 115 percent. The bill is on a fast track -- introduced March 20, out of committee April 12. [Will more money help, do you think?]

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) will soon release its report, "Medicaid in Schools: Improper Payments Demand Improvement in HCFA Oversight." One informant told us, "There is a real windfall for local education districts -- they can bill Medicaid for all 'related services that are state-covered services.' HCFA has been clueless about the degree of ripoff."


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Consider for a moment this fact: People with disabilities have lower incomes
than any other minority group. So how is it that so many can make a living off us?
To see that question in cartoon form, click here.


Noting that 54 percent of America's public school students with disabilities are segregated, Mouth's editor opines that the Supreme Court's Olmstead ruling -- that states cannot segregate individuals with disabilities and must provide services "in the most integrated setting" -- might well apply to a state's provision of education. Today's IDEA standard is "least restrictive setting" and seems about a mile narrower and easier to weasel about than "most integrated."

To get a copy of this issue, send $5 to Mouth, PO Box 558, Topeka, Kansas 66601-0558 and specify #59. Or buy it with your credit card from our online Attitude Catalog.




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