A Bi-Partisan State Legislative Initiative is Launched to Improve Special Education Programs in New Jersey
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 • 10:39am
The success rate among the graduates of New Jersey’s and America’s Special Education Programs has been studied and criticized for decades. In 2005, Dr. Frank Rusch of Pennsylvania State University and this writer addressed the issue related to the inability of young special education high school graduates to achieve success in employment, post-secondary education, adequate housing and community acquiescence. According to
the study, Rusch and Pizzuro wrote:
“Young adults with disabilities typically leave publicly funded educational institutions without a job, without being enrolled in postsecondary education, and without the security of knowing their roles in society. Fewer than 30 percent of high school leavers obtain jobs after departing mandated education and fewer than 10 percent enroll in postsecondary education. The past 25 years has witnessed continued poverty among young adults with disabilities, despite legislative reauthorizations aimed at improving educational opportunities (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004) and employment access (The Americans with Disabilities Act).”
The major questions regarding special education today revolve around money. Special Education services cost school districts more, per pupil, than the cost of educating non-disabled students. As a result, tax payers tend to expect a positive result from the expenditures and efforts. In general, the criticism has been that school districts are paying a great deal of money with little to show for it in return. In fact, Rusch pointed out in 1996 that a discrepancy in overall success among special education high school graduates existed. According to Rusch:
Students with disabilities are more likely than students without disabilities to experience poverty.
A disproportionate number of students with disabilities drop out of school, with the majority leaving school as they approach their 18th birthday. Almost 40 percent of students with a reported disability drop out.
Few youth with disabilities pursue additional education after high school.
Youth with disabilities trail the general population in achieving residential independence.
Social isolation increases over time.
Arrest rates increase over time with 30 percent of all youth with a disability reportingbeing arrested within 3 years of leaving high school.
- The vast majority of students with a disability are unemployed or underemployed after departing schools. (Rusch, 1996).
Recently, the State Legislature has engaged in an initiative to “improve special education programs and services for public school students”. The initiative is bi-partisan in nature, with Assembly Republicans Mary Pat Angelini and Donna Simon providing leadership on the issue. According to Angeline (R – Monmouth), “It’s time for a comprehensive examination of New Jersey’s special education programs to determine a more efficient
and effective way of helping students achieve their fullest potential... New Jersey has some outstanding special education teachers and programs and we can apply their best practices to improve programs throughout the state.”
In an effort to improve special education services, the bill proposes the creation of a 17-member task force to study the problem. The bill will focus on the following issues:
• Methods of classifying and education special needs students.
• Best practices for special education.
• Strategies to reduce costs associated with out-of-district placements.
• Standards to ensure programs meets students’ needs and focus on achievement.
The primary sponsors of the Assembly version of the bill, A-1365, are Mary Pat Angelini, Jason O’Donnell (D-Hudson) and Donna M. Simon (R-Hunterdon). The primary sponsors of the Senate version, S-600, are Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex).
According to Simon, “This task force will provide the blueprint we need to build a better model of special education that is focused first and foremost on student achievement ...This task force will reflect the best ideas of talented educators, caring advocates and passionate parents who have the best insight into we need to make New
Jersey’s special education system the best in the nation.”
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