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Editorial: Put special ed funding overhaul on to-do list

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New Mexico spends around $500 million annually on special education. And according to a Legislative Finance Committee report, despite that investment the state is not meeting its targeted special ed graduation, dropout or Standards Based Assessment performance rates.

In fact, disabled students with Individualized Education Programs do worse in every category than students without them.

Yet rather than the typical bureaucratic New Mexico answer – spend more money on a broken system and see if it fixes itself – LFC staff is recommending revamping special education funding to stop incentivizing districts to over-identify special education students and then qualify them for greater services, with no regard to efficiencies or outcomes.

Instead, it favors following the lead of the federal government and eight states that use a census-based funding method, which “encourages appropriate identification rates and placements in least costly environments.” The LFC report says it’s “simple, understandable, transparent, equitable, reduces over-identification and over-placement incentives (and) increases flexibility to fund cost-effective placement options.” Had it been in place for fiscal 2013, it “would have generated an additional $35 million in special education revenue to improve instruction and services.”

The report also recommends removing gifted students from the special ed category and revising that funding rate, purchasing a statewide IEP system for efficiency and consistency, streamlining due process hearings and promoting alternatives to them, and replicating best practices across the state.

All would switch the state from a system designed to spend more on its most vulnerable students to one designed to deliver more to them. It’s way past time to make this change. The Public Education Department and state lawmakers should give the LFC report serious consideration.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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