Our Ideals: At What Cost?

It’s a noble idea to do whatever it takes to bring out the best in every child. Even nobler is the determination to go the extra mile for children with disabilities. But while those ideals successfully pushed through legislation requiring schools to provide testing and special education for youngsters with such needs, they were less successful in funding those requirements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1975, is still waiting for full funding.

A January 8, 2019 article in Education Week outlines this failure in stark detail:

Congress never funded the IDEA for the full amount that was authorized when the law was first signed. At that time, Congress estimated that it cost states twice as much to educate a student with disabilities as it does to educate a general education student, and the law authorizes the federal government to give up to 40 percent of that excess cost to states.

Congress has never come close to that mark; its $12.3 billion contribution in fiscal 2018 is more like 15 percent of the excess cost.

An additional $85 billion would be required — per year — for the taxpayers to provide full funding for its 40% of the cost. And that says nothing about the 60% of the cost required from the states. When facing a total cost of over a quarter trillion dollars per year for special education, it’s no wonder legislators have shied away from mandating adequate funding.

In poorer states like Arkansas, there’s no doubt that this is an unachievable goal. As noted in my January 2019 blog post, The Undiscovered Cost of Inclusion, in many cases, special needs students are placed into regular classrooms without the support they need, leaving teachers and general education students to bear the sometimes outrageous burden posed by special needs students.


For example, schools simply do not have the money to hire a caretaker for every profoundly intellectually disabled (ID) child or tutors who might be able to make some small improvement in the life of an ID child. The end result is that, under force of law, schools must accept these children or risk being sued by distraught parents.

Few dare draw back the curtain on the real story resulting from the ADA and IDEA. It’s not just the finances, which haven’t even been calculated in over twenty years. Assessment is performed unevenly often with minority students on the losing end. Not only is funding inadequate, but distributed as unevenly as the assessments.

A 2014 report by New America, a Washington-based think tank, asserted that the out-of-date, complicated formula that the federal government uses to distribute money to states has resulted in small districts getting more federal money per student than larger districts, and shrinking school systems receiving more federal dollars than school districts that are growing.

No one has calculated present-day costs to teach an ID student, or assessed the impact of increasing numbers of autistic children. No one has figured out how to prepare classroom teachers for the increasingly common occurrence of disabled children in their classes without the caretakers they need.

Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?

How much is such well-intentioned legislation misleading parents into holding unreasonable expectations for their child with serious disabilities, that he or she can lead a “normal” life?

This Education Week article should be required reading for every American. We’ve placed the burden of educating special needs children on our school systems without providing adequate funding. All our children are paying the price. Not only the children, but the teachers who are underpaid in normal circumstances, and highly underpaid as well as undertrained for the task of providing proper services to disabled children.

At the very least, it is past time for studies and legislation — with adequate funding — that will reflect the current reality of special education—how many students and how impaired, the actual costs of educating them to the greatest extent possible, and which address the collateral necessity of educating general education students in a manner that advances our society.


4 thoughts on “Our Ideals: At What Cost?

  1. Thank you for using your wonderful writing skills to try and educate the rest of us.
    I have wondered for years why the “teachers” union or the school boards that see the underfunding issue have not fought for adequate funding.
    A few special needs kids parents have “connections” but the majority of them do not.
    They have workshops for parents to tell them about “their rights” but the funding for the costs doesn’t get much attention.
    Could this further push the charter schools are better idea?
    Ruth G. Collier
    479 582 0019 plz leave msg


    1. Ruth, I’m not clear on why school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents are not raising the roof about this. I think part of it is the long term extent of the problem — it’s been forty-four years since the law was passed. As the article makes clear, those in office at the time believed the additional funding would come along within a couple of years. Ultimately, I’m afraid it’s like so many other pressing issues: people mostly don’t contact their legislators and make their voices heard. That’s what it will take.

  2. “Should all teachers be required to be trained in special education? Who changes the diapers? What happens to the rest of the students when teachers are forced to spend class time with special needs students?”
    What percentage of children enrolled in special education do you believe are wearing diapers? That comes across as rather demeaning. And so does the idea that students and teachers shouldn’t be forced to spend class time with special needs students. Are you advocating for segregation? What a sad world that would be. My daughter will be fully immersed in general education and everyone in the room will be better for it. She will advance our society by teaching people that different does not equal bad.
    I have advanced our society by willingly bringing a child with Down syndrome into the world. I happened upon an insulting comment that you made about such decisions on a DS Facebook page and came here to see if perhaps you were unfairly misquoted. It appears that you were not as you clearly have a negative attitude toward those with special needs. I’m sorry to know this.
    I would love to invite you for coffee some time. I will bring my sweet baby. She has an incredible skill set that can help change your attitude about people with differences. And she would love to help you.
    And no worries about the diapers. At 11 months old she is doing better than my typical son with potty training. And we promise never to ask you who changes your diapers.

    1. Dear Jaci,

      You refer to a DS Facebook page as the source of your information. Did it ever occur to you that your ‘source’ might be slanted against anyone who questions the willful production of an intellectually impaired child? Here’s the thing. A year ago Arkansas was considering a bill that would outlaw abortion of a DS fetus. As a lifelong advocate for women’s rights, I began protesting this proposed law. Women should have the absolute right to control her body including aborting a child she doesn’t want. For any reason.

      In early March last year as the bill made its way into Senate hearings, the statewide newspaper Arkansas Times posted an article about this law on their FB page and I commented. My comments were to the point of women’s rights. I also commented that DS could be largely eradicated if women were educated about the cost to themselves, their families, and the nation as a whole and encouraged to abort DS fetuses.

      I can see from your remarks that you see nothing wrong with bringing a DS child into the world. That’s your right. But my point was (and is) that many families with DS children are dependent on tax dollars to support medical care, “education,” and lifelong support. Data I found shows that only about 20% of DS persons are ever able to support themselves. I recognize that many parents go above and beyond to devote themselves to their DS child, but what happens when that child outlives you? The more profoundly impaired the DS child is, the more likely that he/she will be dependent on others and taxpayers for the rest of his/her life.

      To me, this is an unconscionable expectation on the part of the parent who willingly produces such a child, to expect others to take care of such a child when that child has little to no expectation of giving back to society. Yes, yes, I’ve heard the protests, yours included, that these are precious loving people who deserve to live. That is your opinion and you have the right to hold that opinion and to act on it.

      Please note that I have no issue with parenting or educating a physically impaired child because that child’s intellect can contribute to our society. I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything a DS intellect can contribute. THAT IS MY OPINION.

      I have the right to hold my opinion and act on it, which is what my advocacy is about.

      If my opinion is so offensive, then perhaps you and your cohort of DS parents should avoid reading my opinion. I mean, considering the outraged reaction to my opinion, you’d think I was in a position to enforce my opinion or somehow influence the entire nation to my point of view. The reaction from you and others has been completely out of proportion to the weight of me voicing my opinion and suggests that you are overly defensive about your decision in this matter.

      As a result of stating my honest opinion on this issue, my FB page for both myself privately and my profession as an author has been attacked with over 200 hate messages. Shall I share some of that hate with you? Here you go:

      –“I was thinking of driving to Arkansas and beating your ass in front of everyone you love. How does that sound? I feel like maybe you just need to have some mothers of special needs children teach you exactly how important they are and how much they give back to this world. And after I leave your nasty old face mangled, we can see if anyone gives a shit, and maybe prove that you’re not actually worth anything and no one gives a flying fuck about you for you have given this world nothing but ignorance and stupidity. Smootches bitch”
      –“You are a vile excuse for a human. If only you could blame your ignorance on being a genetically defective individual instead of just being pure and simple evil.”
      –“Apparently someone never taught this grandma that actions have consequences… Something my 4 year old with down syndrome who has been in America for 3 months already understands…buckle up, buttercup, you’ve kicked the wrong hornet’s nest, now.”
      –“you got that right. You dont piss off the down syndrome community.”
      –“Someone posted her home address on her page…”
      –“oh, she’s definitely gonna get what’s coming to her”
      “…they already have heard from me and at least 25 of my friends so far. It’s my sincerest prayer that the head of the Arkansas Historical Society has a loved one with DS. I’d pay good money to see the pain on her face when they strip that award.”
      —“You are a disgrace to humanity. Glad we have your address. I have shared your comments with literally thousands of people.”
      —“you are no better than Hitler, with your eugenics mindset.”
      —“you’re a PIG Denele!”
      —“Hateful cunt!!!!”
      —“You are a sick fucking cunt you know what since you don’t think the special-needs person has a right to live
      —“hey lady guess what when you get a certain age maybe you should lose your right to also you fucking worthless piece of shit your books that are sitting in a box in my house will be set on fucking fire I will never buy anything with your fucking name on it and I hope you never get to write another book.”
      —“We know where you live work and phone numbers”

      Are you proud to be part of a ‘community’ which exhibits so much TOLERANCE?

      But that’s not all. Your loving tolerant friends went to Amazon.com and posted over 100 1-star reviews to my books. Most of the reviews were so obscene and hateful that Amazon agreed to remove them. They also went to Goodreads.com and did the same, and again Goodreads saw that these were personally insulting, often profane criticisms of my books. My books are about local history and have nothing to do with Down syndrome, but these reviews weren’t about my books. They were an effort to harm me personally because I spoke my opinion.

      I would caution you about aligning yourself with such people.

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