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State proposes special education overhaul

Last Modified: Friday, February 08, 2013 1:36 PM

BATON ROUGE (AP) — State Superintendent of Education John White is proposing sweeping changes in how the state supports special education students, in part because only 29 percent are graduating from high school.

He said that, under current methods, special education students in Louisiana have less than a one-third chance of leaving high school with a diploma.

The Advocate reported the superintendent unveiled his plan Friday to the Special Education Advisory Panel, which includes educators, parents and others who advise the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The issue could become a key topic when BESE debates its annual funding request from the Legislature, which is set for discussion when the board meets next month.

The 2013 regular legislative session begins on April 8.

Any major changes are sure to spark controversy, and the superintendent was peppered with questions and concerns from panel members during his presentation, which took more than one hour.

The state has roughly 82,000 special education students, which is about 12 percent of the public school population.

About $313 million per year is spent to aid children with a wide range of disabilities, including speech or language impediments, various mental disabilities, hearing issues, deafness or visual problems and autism.

White said the key problem is the state spends the same amount of money for all special education students regardless of specific disabilities, and that there is insufficient oversight of how students are educated and the results. "The money is the same for every child," he said.

Under the proposed overhaul, funding would be based on whether a student is placed in one of three categories, which could range from those with speech or language impairments to those with autism.

White said such an approach would recognize that different disabilities require different levels of state aid.

The plan would also base funding on how the child is educated.

In addition, state would be based in part on how special education students fare in the classroom, including whether they meet or exceed annual state academic improvement targets.

White repeatedly said that the overhaul, which he said would be phased in, would not have any dramatic impact on overall funding levels.

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