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EDUCATION: Too much spent on special education

Letter by Lyle Laws, Puyallup on July 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm with 34 Comments »
July 14, 2010 9:00 am

Re: “Intelligence owes much to heredity” (letter, 7-4).

Just as surely as tall people are more likely to have tall children and obese people are more likely to have obese children, parents with IQs of 125 are more likely to produce intelligent children than parents with IQs of 75.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be kind and caring, public schools spend a disproportionately large amount of money on special education programs which produce a very limited amount of learning and often underfund gifted programs in which the learning potential is boundless.

No reasonable person would deny that environment plays an important role in determining one’s intelligence, but to deny that inheritance also plays a major role is about as naive saying that family genetic history does not play a role determining a person’s chances of developing heart disease or cancer.

Leave a comment Comments → 34
  1. APimpNamedSlickback says:

    So Lyle,

    Are you saying we should just cut off the retar… special kids? Say “Sorry, but because you have a disability, you’re education is worth less than my normal kid’s”?

    Or should we just cut straight to the message you really intended and say “Get it through your thick, wobbly, helmet-encased head, Mongo… you’re less human than the rest of us, and thus not deserving of the same opportunities or access to public services as those of us who don’t lick windows, drool on balloons, or swim in circles.”

    If that’s what you’re saying, just come out with it. Godwin aside, to deny that you’re opinion wasn’t formed out of a sickly enamoured reading of the history of Nazi eugenics projects is as naive as saying the moon is made of cheese.

  2. “spend a disproportionately large amount of money on special education programs which produce a very limited amount of learning and often underfund gifted programs in which the learning potential is boundless”

    Something tells me Mr. Laws doesn’t have any special-needs children..

  3. Mr. Laws’ example of IQ is totally wrong.
    Where do people like this come from? And they write with total abandonment to the thought of being embarrassed.

  4. As a parent who has volunteered in the schools and who has been blessed with three gifted children I can see this from both sides. In our school district there are cases where the money spent on some special needs children seemed redundant. One child who had three attendants was not even cognizant of her surroundings and the teachers disliked the disruptions in their classes that she posed. The other special need children were aware of the fact they could hit other students without any consequences. So what do we do? Divide the special needs from the regular children or what? I’ve talked to regular kids who for the most part wanted some sort of system that separated the special needs children like the girl and the aggressive ones out of normal school and into an environment away from them. As for the unequal funding that is a definite problem. In my school district the gifted or honor class kids are the ones who passed the WASL and raised the schools stats.

  5. wow……..

  6. Fibonacci says:

    I don’t think Lyle has too much tact, but the point is that the amount spent per student for special ed is much higher than for regular ed or gifted programs, and the result is not always concistent with how much is spent. Does your special needs kid deserve double or triple the amount of district funds?

  7. petrie44 says:

    As a Special Education teacher it is very disappointing to read something like this. Life is not fair and nothing is ever equal. To say we should give less support to a student who needs it in order to give more support to a student who doesn’t need it seems backwards. If someone is ill, they will get more support from a doctor. Should we take that away so a doctor can tend to the well? Special Education students deal with many more obstacles in their daily living than a typical student. Why would we offer them less support? I welcome anyone into my classroom to see the value of the learning taking place and daily gains of each of my students.

  8. APimpNamedSlickback says:


    I’m childless by choice, so it’s not a matter of what “my” kid deserves. I pay to educate everyone else’s kids, and it doesn’t matter what the special:gifted ratio is. I pay the same amount no matter what, and I’m not reaping any rewards from that investment regardless of how that money is allocated. (And not that you’re about to go there, but let’s not get into the misguided discussion about how my tax dollars will educate the doctor that will save my life 50 years from now… that’s a different topic all together.)

    But if, as Article IX of the state constitution says, “it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders,” then I think that pretty much precludes the sort of redistribution the letter writer was suggesting. Reason would dictate that this article requires the state to provide adequate education for each student, not ideal education. And while a gifted student isn’t entitled to a greater education than other non-special, non-gifted students, the special students are entitled an education that is adequate for their needs, if not equal to what all other students receive.

    That may require greater expenditure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that greater expense is a preferential one or detrimental to the gifted students — besides, by virtue of being gifted, shouldn’t the gifted students be able to take the standard level of education that non-gifted students receive and build on that learning in their own time and at their own expense?

    If not, where would it end? Would we administer an IQ test in kindergarten and those with high enough scores get taxpayer-funded educations through the grad school of their own choice, while the lower scoring students get booted into the job force after 5th grade? If so, what about the special students then? Would we not even go to the expense of putting them through kindergarten?

    That sentence from Article IX that I noted continues: “without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.” Doesn’t deciding which students are “worth” the education dollars create a State-sponsored caste system?

  9. cclngthr says:

    SPED often requires a higher resource of funding due to the kind of services rendered; which are federally mandated.

    It seems as Mr. Laws prefers everyone with a special need be institutionalized and possibly placed in concentration camps as Hitler did (perfect human syndrome).

    As a teacher, I must teach those with special needs along with those without special needs; although the curriculum might be different for each, it can be done successfully. Since I am dual certified, my training enables me to do that.

    As a person with a disability, I expect people to treat me normally, however people seem to advocate the genocide of people of any difference.

  10. spotted1 says:

    It is not a stretch for anyone to recognize that an inordinate amount of money is spent on Sepcial Education students with limited return for the money. Face it, a student with an IQ of 75 is only going to reach so far up in this life. They should be taught and trained to that point in the public education system.

    But that is not popular to say. No one likes to admit that not everyone will rise to the same level as everyone else. And that maybe SPED spending is out of control….

    If you want a reality check, go check out other countries and their SPED classes…Parents provide the extra suport or they are not in school…consider that in relation to the amount of money spent here….

  11. relaxturbo says:

    As a mother of a special needs child I am appalled at your position Lyle. I can’t tell you how thankful I am of the opportunities that are presented to my child at the school. Sure it may take her a little longer but she comes along just fine, thanks.

    DD8491: I don’t know what school you have been involved in but you should consider taking the concerns to someone who can do something about the feeling of the other students. I can tell you that is not my experience. A lot of effort is put into commingling the children and students are accountable for all violations of personal space and boundaries.

    My daughter is lucky enough to have “regular” kids that will interact and hang with her and treat her as a normal human being. She is caring enough to show compassion to the kids that are severely disabled.

    Maybe I am lucky enough to put my child into a school that places value on education and not dollars. Here’s an idea why don’t you take a day and see the trial and tribulations that special education teachers and students have on a daily basis. Wait never mind, the last thing I want is someone with a poor understanding of the issues or that can’t empathize around my daughter.

  12. LuckyCharm says:

    For the first time in my life, I second Slickback…..

    I was fortunate enough to go to a “magnet” school in my elementary years — classes were divided up according to ability groups. This magnet school was where I was first exposed to the French language, and I’ve retained my love for and aptitude for it ever since. In my math class, my group eventually exhausted the curriculum, and I distinctly recall the teacher telling us that she had no more materials for us, and to go to the school library and check out some algebra books and start learning it on our own! We did so, and attended math class basically making up our own curriculum from the library books.

    What a wonderful school that was. I have no idea what they might have spent “extra” on special-needs kids, but one thing I do know — they were never made to feel inferior, nor were any in the “advanced” groups treated as superior. Academic ability was treated matter-of-factly, as only one facet of personhood, and while one student might excel academically, another might excel in creativity, or generosity, or vision.

    Why are schools nowadays apparently committed to making everybody a carbon copy of one another? Why aren’t students encouraged to pursue the course of study that excites and motivates them? I don’t have kids, but from what I’ve heard about schools these days, they are geared toward churning out a specific product — sort of like what we imagined Soviet schools were doing during the Cold War.

  13. Slickback the Pimp said it good enough for me, I second that.

  14. frankiethomas says:

    Petrie 44 – I disagree with your comment “To say we should give less support to a student who needs it in order to give more support to a student who doesn’t need it seems backwards. If someone is ill, they will get more support from a doctor. Should we take that away so a doctor can tend to the well?” It is nearly as ill-informed as the letter writer’s. To say that gifted kids don’t require their needs to be addressed exposes a grave ignorance on YOUR part.

    Pulling funds from needed special education prgrams is certainly not the answer. My family encapsulates thsi issue – my son is gifted, my nephew is deaf-blind and developmentally disabled. My nephew has two full time aides at school – he is 18 and is entitled to attend school until he is 21. I am sure the state has devoted 10 times the funding to him than it has my son. My son’s middle school experience was a complete waste of time, and the highly capable office merely suggeted I try space camp for the summer to enrich his experiences. They did NOT offer to fund that. I do not begrudge one dime spent towards special education. I am THRILLED to see the attention now being directed toward gfted ed, toward more equity in admission, revamping the middle school program, etc.

    Where can more funds come from? I do question how much is spent on administraiton. Why do we need 60 people at OSPI that make over 100k a year when each district as its own Superintendent and administration? The cuts need to come at the top, not in the classrooms. Sadly that’s where those decisions are made, and they are unwilling to eat themselves.

  15. murphtall says:

    spend more on science & math and high IQ kids and none on after school sports. that’ll be a start in the correct direction

  16. cclngthr says:

    SPED funding is not out of control, it is quite tight and what we as teachers have to do to justify the funding requirements are much higher than with regular education.

    As far as return, all sped students are expected as adults to be independent and live on their own since the services are very limited when they become adults. Either the family takes care of them, or they are on their own.

    The majority of sped students are able to function quite well in society; however the main issue with the schools is they assume everyone is college bound, including sped kids. Work training is not emphasized as much as it needs to be.

  17. First, I don’t agree with the content of the letter. However, reading through many of the comments, I am astounded at the number of people who seem prone to take a person’s letter and assign extreme characterizations. comparing someone to Hitler and Nazism because they question how funds are spent seems simplistic and reactionary. I would encourage my fellow readers to attempt to maintain a thoughtful and well-considered temperment when they respond rather than behave in this manner

  18. murphtall says:

    its very easy to pont out a problem, the difficulty is in finding a solution. Cut spending on all after school sports, add spending saved to higher IQ kids and science and math programs. now that is a good direction to go in! Make the smart kids want to go to school instead of boring them into drugs and lack of achievement.

  19. LuckyCharm says:

    Another way schools could maximize their effectiveness is to utilize volunteer tutors for both gifted and challenged students. I’ve offered my time and have never received a response. Money isn’t the answer to everything — there are untapped resources out there just begging to be put to use.

  20. planebus says:

    WOW lets just go backwards when special ed kids were not allowed to go to school and were put in institutions. My son has Autism and he comes from a very educated family, so to say that special ed children come from low functioning people just shows how stupid Mr. Laws is and has never done any research on the mater. Maybe he himself would have benefited with a little extra help in school himself. My niece is gifted and has gone through the regular school system and has never been denied anything. The difference with gifted and special ed is gifted will be able to compensate for what might lack in there education and go on to great things were special ed struggles to have even a slightly normal life. I invite Mr. Laws to come and see how my life is and be grateful for the gifted children that he has and to know that they will live full lives. For us it all stops when they are done with public school and that is as far as most go. Hopefully he can find a job or volunteer work that will keep him busy. But I am not keeping my fingers crossed. Good luck with your children they will be just fine.

  21. spotted1 says:

    cclngthr…really? You as a teacher believe that SPED funding is under control? That it is fair and equitiable for all students? That it is tightly controlled and used appropriately for the returns that are gained?

    So, let me get this straight. Each school district is given an amount of money for each student. Say each school receives an average of $9,000 per student. Plus each school receives an extra $4,000 per SPED student so that student can “meet standard”. This does not include multi-million dollar lawsuits due to SPED. Lawyers fees that districts must bear for one person’s issue, etc.

    These SPED students receive a minimum of one extra teacher assistance most days, some receive district paid specialists including psychologists, counselors, speech and language assistance, math and reading help, etc. All to help a student function in the world outside of school. Many SPED students also have assistants work with them for part or all of the day. Technology vital to the students are paid for by the district. Medical assistance is paid for by the district for these students when needed in the classroom for medically fragile students. All paid for by the district, and ultimately the taxpayer.

    High functioning SPED students with limited needs are one thing. Especially if they have an interest in improving themselves. Lower functioning SPED students who are capable yet don’t care, and get an excessive amount of time and resources, are costing the schools and taxpayers money. And consider this, the schools are required to educate, up to 21 years of age, students who may never function in society and will need 24 hour assistance throughout their life. Think that isn’t expensive? Yet we, the taxpayer, must pay for that kid and all the assistance.

    I would challenge your supposition that money is not being wasted. Let us do a real life evaluation of SPED and see what the return is for the money put in. I would challenge that it is not as good a return for our money as we might wish to think.

  22. planebus says:

    And what about those regular students that just don’t care and don’t try, are you the one to say which one goes and which one stays. I hope to god you never have to deal with a special needs child in your own family. I would pity that child because it sounds to me that you plan on putting them in a closet and locking the door.
    I have worked with both special needs and regular kids in the school system and I have found that the kids with special needs work 100% harder than any gifted or regular student that I have worked with. Also those kids love school and want to be there. I don’t think that can be said for a large group of normals.
    So let me know if it is going to be you who decides who goes to school and who does not. Then lets open up the homes out there so you can lock them all up and you can live in a white washed world where no one isdifferent. If you don’t like the schools then send your “gifted” to a private school where they are all the same and they wont learn to be tolerant of other people difference. I am worried about our future with that type of people running it.

  23. murphtall – there is a strong and consistent correlation between students’ involvement in extracurricular activities (like sports, band, theatre) and high graduation rates and….staying out of trouble. In fact, as a preventative measure, extracurricular programs like sports and the arts do far better than D.A.R.E.

  24. cclngthr says:

    Costs for psychologists, and all of the extra specialists are required by IDEA, and that requirement is to ensure those with disabilities are educated appropriately. Most sped students are able to function well as adults if they are taught correctly, which is the teachers obligation to do. It is up to each teacher to keep that desire of learning active. Some teachers still feel students are unworthy and a bother because their assumption of the condition they have.

    You are saying those who are low functioning students should not exist because, in your mind, they are too expensive to educate and should be euthanized. Those medically fragile students also have that constitutional right to an education, if it is more social in nature rather than academic. That depends on the IEP.

    Teachers thought I was unable to learn because of my disability. If that were the case, how was I able to earn a college degree and become a teacher?

  25. cclngthr says:

    People just want to eliminate any difference among people. The perfect human syndrome. In other words, Cultural Revolution and the Action T-4 euthanasia program. Anyone who is deemed unfit is automatically eliminated from society.

  26. spotted1 says:

    Planebus, thank you for proving the point of teachers not listening to comments and only going on the attack because they believe that they are right. And that others are wrong. I won’t even dignify the comments about working with special education students with a response.

    cclngthr…yes, the extra costs are required. But they are paid for by taxpayers. More frequently, that money is above and beyond what is provided for by the state or federal monies and must be paid for at the expense of local monies that could go towards other programs.

    The rest of the comments, well, you are simply attempting to put words into my mouth. Schools are increasingly accountable for ALL of the students in their school and for improving test scores. Special Education students count in that total. Monies that are going to get sped students to “meet standard” could be better served with other students. Schools are constantly cutting budgets. SPED is underfunded and has been for years. So the money has to come from somewhere. That means the regular education fund has to supplement those funds in areas that they are able to.

    So, we come back to “to much is spent on special education”. But then again, no one really wants to cut money to anything so why consider special education either…

  27. cclngthr says:

    The extra costs are required by federal law, IDEA, ADA, Section 504 of the Rehab Act. Some of that is paid by the federal government; the state does not bear 100% of that cost. Those funds are separately held from regular education funding sources; they are not bound into one pot. You legally can’t use funding for sped students on anything else but that specific program it is intended for. Same with regular education. That can’t be used as part of sped programming.

    The amount of paperwork required for SPED is a lot more involved than general education, all because of funding and federal requirements. Those sped students I teach requires me to document in detail everything that goes on with their education (IEP requirements and documentation for funding that education). For one year, the amount of paperwork for each sped kid can average 100+ pages. Test results, parent contacts per IEP goals, etc. etc.

    SPED kids are expected by society to be independent as possible. There are few programs for adult disabled people. Either they get a regular job, or they stay home. The few programs available as Tahoma Associates, Vadis NW, are specifically indended for a select few people, and they too are being required to cut funding because the money is not there. Fircrest and Rainier Schools are being closed due to federal limitations on segregating disabled people from society and it is better if disabled people are served in smaller sized programs.

    Schools have to get students to meet the standard, as they should. If they don’t, they should lose the ability to operate.

  28. There is no doubt that special education is expensive, but I’d like to see the evidence that kids in special ed are competing for funds with gifted kids. I think not.

    Do we really want to deny an education to kids who struggle in school, or who have learning disabilities, developmental delays, or behavior problems? Where exactly would we draw the line that says Susie gets to go to school but Johnny does not? It strikes me as incredibly discriminatory to admit children to public schools or not based upon a perceived ability. These kids don’t ask for these challenges and they don’t bring them on themselves. They need support, not punishment.

    Nothing about the system is perfect, neither the testing nor the staff nor the funding for that matter, but we all do the best we can to help our students in special ed develop to their potential. Just as we would for any other child. They have a right, protected by law, to an education.

    If you don’t like it, run for congress and change the law. In the meantime, have a little compassion.

  29. theogsters says:

    You have a point there, Lyle. Not to be mean spirited or overly cost conscious, but those of sub-standard intelligence should probably be denied the right to reproduce. However, when you promote such thinking you should also recommend where we draw the line and, furthermore, provide evidence of your IQ rating to show that you have no bias in this matter.

  30. The real truth is that too much money is spent on education period! If these public schools were paid for the quality of the product they produce, as most businesses are, they’d be out of business.

  31. spotted1 says:

    cclngthr…the requirements for SPED paperwork come from the federal government via lawsuits that have been lost because a judge ruled in favor of the family because a school teacher did not do their job. Sometimes righlty, sometimes wrongly. But in our litigious society, the teachers have to cover their backsides and do an inordinate amount of paperwork in order to maintain government compliance. There is a reason that Special Education has difiiculty filling positions and is the highest burn out field in education. The hours are long, the reality of the situation is they face kids who may be violent or are so far behind that they will never truly catch up, and they face parents who don’t necessarily like them either.

    Also, at last check, the Federal Government believes that only 7% of kids in schools qualify for special education monies. So the rest has to be born by the state government. Oh, but guess what, at last check, I paid FEDERAL TAXES AND STATE TAXES. That means I get to pay one way or the other.

    But these students are still being taught like they will go to college, not a living wage job. Some can make it, but not all. Yet money continues to pour into special education which you refuse to discuss. How much more does it cost per kid to teach a special education kid, with all the support, than a regular kid in school? It doesn’t cost less.

    Frosty…everyone complains about public education, yet few truly step in and help the teachers…public education still turns out some of the best and brightest, of course, it looks like the media only wants you to believe that everyone is failing…

  32. spotted1, I help the teachers by paying their salaries. Am I supposed to help them do their job too?

  33. frosty coming out against education…..why am I not surprised?

  34. WarmNfuzziOne says:

    Why subsidize failure?

    Every dollar spent instead on gifted children is more likely to bring us additional tax revenue and benefits as they’re encouraged and supported in efforts to progress. Every dollar spent on special ed beyond the minimum is stealing from the future of society.

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