Children with special needs have gifts and talents. Our challenge in education is to ensure these students have the tools to unleash these talents and reach their full potential. Close to 12% of all Arkansas students are enrolled in special education classes.
Students eligible for special education include those with autism, hearing or visual impairments, emotional disturbances, or any learning disability.
During the 2015 Regular Session, the General Assembly passed Act1485 creating the Legislative Task Force on the Best Practices for Special Education. Since August of last year, the 21 member task force has been reviewing practices for identifying students for special education, comparing outcomes with other states, and reviewing support staff services including nurses and teachers aids.
This week, the task force met to review its findings so far and begin to prepare a final report.
One issue brought to their attention is the inadequate supply of appropriately licensed special education teachers who want to teach in the field. A district that cannot find an appropriately licensed teacher must apply to the Department of Education for a waiver. Currently, 138 districts and charter schools have requested such waivers.
They have also learned that students with disabilities who are placed in the regular classroom for at least 80% of the school day have higher levels of proficiency than all students with disabilities collectively.
Discipline is another important area of study for the task force. There is a significant gap in statewide literacy assessments for students with disabilities who were removed from the classroom for disciplinary measures. The numbers show that 10% of the special education population were either suspended or expelled from school during the 2014-2015 school year.
All of this information and more will be released in a final report in September. This will give all members time to review the findings and propose legislation for the 2017 Regular Session.
Education is the state’s number one fiscal priority. We want to ensure every child, regardless of their needs, has the resources available in our schools to achieve success. We will update you on our progress in this area in the months ahead.