A study released Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has found that if high-spending public school districts reduced their special education staffing levels to align with the national median, the country could save $10 billion annually.
The study, authored by Managing Director at the District Management Council and former school superintendent Nathan Levenson, analyzed information -- including staffing patterns and spending -- from 1,411 public school districts representing 30 percent of the nation’s K-12 schoolchildren.
From there, Levenson’s team reduced the sample into 10 pairs of comparable districts in five states — Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas. In each pair, one district spent less on special education but boasted higher achievement levels, as measured by scores on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). On average, the higher-achieving districts within the pairs placed 25 percent more special education pupils at the proficient level, while their lower-achieving counterparts spent 22 percent more on special ed, when adjusted for total student enrollment.
Overall, the study determined that spending and staffing for special education varies considerably more than it does for regular education, and this wide variation primarily stems from differences in staffing levels among districts, even when total enrollments are held constant.