LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's school districts are shouldering an increasing share of the rising cost of educating students with disabilities as state and federal funding remains flat, according to a state report released Thursday.
The 25-page report by the state Legislative Analyst's Office found that school districts must keep dipping deeper into their general funds to pay for special education.
Schools spend $8.6 billion a year on special education, a combination of state, federal and local funds. The average cost to educate a student with disabilities is $22,300 a year, compared with $9,600 for a non-disabled child.
In 2005, districts assumed 32 percent of their special education costs. In 2011, that figure had risen to 39 percent. The report said the figure is now likely higher after a two-year boost from federal stimulus funds has dried up.
The report made no recommendations for policy changes. Rather, it was meant as an informational survey of an especially complicated and costly area of K-12 education, author Rachel Ehlers said.
It came as Gov. Jerry Brown is slated to unveil next week an overhaul of how the state funds education, with a goal of shifting more money to lower-income schools.
"We don't know if special education will be in or out of that yet," Ehlers said. "We'll see what the governor proposes."
California provides special services to 618,000 school-aged children, or about 10 percent of public school enrollment, as well as another 68,000 preschoolers. Many students with special needs — about 40 percent — have relatively minor impairments, such as dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
The overall number of students with disabilities has dropped over the past decade due to a 20 percent decrease in the number of children diagnosed with learning disabilities. Experts say better awareness and earlier intervention have led to more kids avoiding the special education classification.
But increasing expenses are coming with a 240 percent increase in the number of children with autism, and a 120 percent rise in other impairments that require costlier interventions, the report said. Those categories of disabilities, however, still comprise a small proportion of special education.
The report also found that California students with disabilities face poor educational outcomes, with many struggling to complete high school and falling short of academic benchmarks.
Only 59 percent of students with special needs graduate from high school on time, even with exemptions from the state high school exit exam, and 18 percent drop out of school.
Furthermore, only 11 percent of students with disabilities met federal benchmarks for English language arts and math proficiency in 2011, although scores have risen.
Nevertheless, the report said the state Department of Education estimates about half of students with special needs go on to enroll in a higher education institution and another 15 percent are employed within a year of leaving high school.
The report also noted that California is behind other states in the amount of time students with disabilities spend in mainstream classrooms. About half of California students spend 80 percent of the school day in general classes, compared to 60 percent of students nationally.