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A better direction for special education

QuickPoint!

A recent report by an Oregon legislative task force outlines how the state should improve special education. A number of concerns prompted the task force’s formation. Spending for special education has risen rapidly in the past decade, as documented by a new Cascade Policy Institute study. Significant resources are expended on paperwork and administration and special education programs are driven by compliance with federal law, not results. Furthermore, the current system contains perverse incentives that may increase the number of students diagnosed with disabilities.

The legislature was right to look further into special education. Unfortunately, the task force’s recommendations would merely tweak the system’s Byzantine rules and regulations. A better approach is a student-centered model of funding and service delivery, as outlined in a Cato Institute report. This approach allocates money to students based on their diagnosed disability and allows parents to purchase services from government or independent educators.

Parental control of education dollars will change the adversarial nature of special education by giving school districts an incentive to serve parents and providing parents greater options for their child’s education. To adopt this approach Oregon should refuse federal funding for special education. According to the Cato study it may cost as much or more to administer special education funds as states receive in revenue from Washington, D.C. Even if Oregon were to see a net reduction in resources, federal strings would cease to be a straitjacket for parents and educators.

Attempting to fine-tune Oregon’s ineffective system will not improve it. For the sake of children, parents and educators, Oregon should scrap the cumbersome special education process and put in place one that empowers all parties with greater freedom and flexibility.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

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