Report finds education of students with disabilities closely mirrors school district wealth

Published Dec 7, 2017 at 4:00pm

Disparities among New York’s public schools in educating
students with disabilities are closely linked with school districts’ proportions of student poverty and local wealth, a new report says.

Differences in students’ diagnosis rates, achievement and spending based on wealthier versus economically poorer districts were outlined in the report issued Wednesday by the New York State Association of School Business Officials (NYSASBO).

Among the findings:

• In the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts, students with disabilities comprise 13 percent of enrollment, while in the economically poorest 10 percent of school districts they are 19 percent of enrollment.

Learning disabilities, the most frequently diagnosed disability, account for much of those differences, the report said.

• Expenditures on students with disabilities differ significantly depending on district wealth. Special education spending in a grouping of the lowest-need/wealthier districts is $43,635 per special education pupil, while spending in a grouping of the highest need/economically poorest districts is $25,823 per special education pupil.

• In the wealthiest districts, 64 percent of students with disabilities spend most of their school day in general education classrooms, while 9 percent spend most of their time outside of those classrooms.

In the poorest districts, 54 percent spend most of their time in general education classrooms, while 21 percent spend most of their time outside of them.

• For students with disabilities in the lowest-need/wealthier districts, their English Language Arts and math proficiency rates are over six times higher than students with disabilities in the highest-need districts.

The four-year graduation rate for those students in the wealthier districts is 81 percent, compared with only 40 percent for students with disabilities in the economically poorest 10 percent of school districts.

In the Rome school district, which is considered a high-need/low wealth district, the four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 52 percent, said NYSASBO Deputy Director of Education and Research Andrew D. Van Alstyne.

Students with disabilities comprise about 15 percent of the district’s overall enrollment, he added.

In the Madison-Oneida BOCES region that includes Rome and eight other area school districts, Van Alstyne said schools’ special education spending per special education pupil is $23,747 and the four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 50 percent.

Those figures differ slightly for the broader Mohawk Valley region that includes Oneida, Herkimer, Fulton, Montgomery, Otsego and Schoharie counties.

Special education spending per special education pupil is $23,927, and the four-year graduation rate for students with disabilities is 48 percent. That is the lowest graduation rate of any state region outside of New York City, said Van Alstyne.

The spending rate is the second-lowest among the state regions; only the western region is lower, at $23,702 according to NYSASBO data.

NYSASBO is proposing updates of school cost studies in order to better align state financial aid with student needs. NYSASBO Executive Director Michael J. Borges said “the continued inequities in funding falls disproportionally on our most vulnerable and needy students.”

Borges expressed hope that the coming state legislative session will bring “long overdue changes” to the state’s financial aid formula to “help school districts educate all students, including students with
disabilities.”