Money Doesn’t Trump Blame Game

Two reports out of Alabama this week tell the story of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under No Child Left Behind, because of students with disabilities.

DEKALB COUNTY SCHOOLS (Read the full article here)
“The system did not meet AYP,” said DeKalb superintendent Charles Warren. “For most of the schools that did not meet AYP, it was primarily for special education subgroups not meeting proficiency.”

But wait! Now that we’ve gotten our hands on the “Table 8″ data that provides a district-by-district recap of how districts handled the whopping increase in IDEA funds received in 2009 due to the Recovery Act, we can add some critical information to these stories.

DeKalb reduced its spending on special education by $895,958 in 2009. As we demonstrate in our tutorial – Understanding the Impact of IDEA Federal Funds and ARRA Funds over Time – districts that took a substantial reduction in 2009 (DeKalb took 75% of the allowable amount) end up spending little if any additional money on special education once the Recovery Act funds are used up.

CALHOUN COUNTY SCHOOLS (Read the full article here)
“Of six local schools where special education students’ scores on reading and math tests were counted, five were cited as not meeting proficiency standards, according to information released Monday by the Alabama State Department of Education.

Calhoun County administrators say part of the problem is No Child Left Behind, which requires that students with and without special needs perform at the same level. Calhoun County Superintendent Joe Dyar said that’s not what special education is designed to do.

“The purpose of special education is to help each child reach his or her level,” he said. “It’s not a level playing field.”

The problem, local educators say, is that the benchmark keeps inching up for all students, and the benchmark has outpaced special education students’ abilities. As a result, special education students’ scores have impacted the system’s status.”

Calhoun County reduced its spending on special education by $1,165,399 – swapping federal funds for local funds.

So, while the IDEA Recovery Act funds were intended to “provide an unprecedented opportunity for states, LEAs, and EIS programs to implement innovative strategies to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities while stimulating the economy” according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, kids in DeKalb and Calhoun just got more of the same, evidently.

Now that the test results for the past school year are out, the practice of putting blame on certain groups of students – particularly students with disabilities – is back in full swing.

Could $2.1 million have made the difference for the students with disabilities in Calhoun and DeKalb?

Sadly, we’ll never know.

The Table 8 data for Alabama is available here. (PDF, 15 pgs.) Alabama also received a waiver from the U.S.Dept. of Education to reduce its state financial support to local school districts in 2010.

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