A Different Kind of Segregation

As NJ moves closer to a 2% soft cap on property taxes, the hard costs of special education are moving front and center. See today’s New Jersey Spotlight piece, a press release from NJSBA, and an accompanying article from The Record.

Bottom line: for a small school district, an unexpected out-of-district placement for a child with serious disabilities is a budget-breaker. From the NJSBA release:
A 2007 study by NJSBA showed that out-of-district special education placements involve 10 percent of New Jersey’s special education student population, but make up 40 percent of the total cost of special education.
And, of course, that’s that ol’ Garden State problem of excess. According to the NJ Council of Developmental Disabilities’ report, “Where are We Now? Still Segregated in New Jersey,” the national average for kids placed in separate facilities is 2.9%. In Jersey, we outsource 8.8% of our classified kids to out-of-district placements. From the NJCDD report:
The 8.8 percent of New Jersey students who are placed in segregated facilities represents 19,596 students. Only one state, New York, had more students in segregated placements (but still had a smaller percentage of its special education population in segregated placements than New Jersey); while California, the most populous state with more than four times New Jersey’s population, has almost 6,000 fewer students in segregated facilities.
Do some kids require a segregated placement in order to insure a thorough and efficient education? Absolutely. Almost 9%? Probably not. So the problem is not just the need for cap waivers for extraordinary education needs for students with serious disabilities. We must also address the disproportionate number of kids who are educated in separate public and private facilities. Sure, home rule is a problem – too many districts, no critical mass to create efficient programming. But there’s got to be a better way than earning yet another ribbon in our apparent quest to become the segregated school system in the country.