The Whole System will Implode at Some Point

Abadnonned schoolBy Anne Dachel

I’ve been looking at stories about special education for five years now for Loss of Brain Trust and things show no sign of quietly settling down. Every once in a while some story will mention the percentage of kids who have special needs or else cite the current autism rate. I’ve faithfully written about all these numbers.

The latest U.S. autism rate is one in 44, up from one in 54 the year before.

Of course that’s nothing. Over the last few years I’ve seen one in 39 in North Carolina, one in 26 in California, one in 22 in Northern Ireland, and one in 14 in Toms River, NJ.

Those are only a few. I’ve got lots more, but it really doesn’t matter. Autism will never be a real problem and neither will the percentage of kids who are considered special ed.

I’ve been collecting those percentages too, and they’re chilling: Staten Island: 24 percent of students are SPED, Ireland: 25 percent, Rumford, ME: more than 25 percent; Hamilton, Ontario: 26 percent, Clark County, KY: 30 percent, Scotland: 32 percent. It just gets monotonous after a while. None of these numbers matter at all. I don’t know why reporters even mention them. There’s never any follow-up questions or real concern.

There’s one glaring truth that can’t be ignored: With ever-increasing autism numbers and greater percentages of students with special needs, we will see rising costs to society, and it turns out that in the U.K. and Ireland, those costs are disastrous.

A couple of years ago I came in contact with an economist who knew all about what autism will be costing us. Toby Rogers, PhD studied the official reports from NIH. Here’s how he summed things up.

It seemed to me that with rising autism prevalence, you’d also see rising autism costs to society, and it turns out, the costs are catastrophic.

They calculated that in 2015 autism cost the United States $268 billion and they projected that if autism continues at its current rate, we’re looking at one trillion dollars a year in autism costs by 2025, so within five years.

Those are the government’s own figures. No one pretends that things will ever level off or improve.  The numbers are real, yet there is no alarm from officials.

Where is leading medical official focused on autism who makes regular appearances on the news? Where is the expert with all the answers?  Why isn’t anyone asking questions?

The truth is those in charge are too scared to even acknowledge autism as the nightmare it clearly is.

While there’s next to nothing in the American media concerning autism and disabled students, it’s a whole different situation in the U.K.

Autism/special ed is already costing local councils massive amounts, and the national government has had to pour billions into the English education system. Stories are non-stop in Britain and Ireland where schools are also flooded with costly disabled students.

Stories about special ed in the U.K. are evolving.  I’ve literally seen hundreds of them talking about “increasing demand”—something we’ve come to expect. Yup, that demand is always increasing.

 But now there’s a new term I’ve come across: “overspend.” These are stories about local councils in deficit spending when it comes to special education costs, especially “high needs costs.”

This past week I found a truly dismal article from Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England, and it’s all about those “catastrophic costs” Toby Rogers warned about.

Here are some choice lines:

The north of the county’s high needs budget has a deficit £2.3m [$3.1M].

…many of our special schools and mainstream units are running at, or over, capacity…

There is an ongoing increase in the number of Education, Care and Health Plans (EHCPs)…

…having to deal with a £2.1m [$2.8M] hole in the special education budget inherited from Northamptonshire County Council – plus an overspend of £300,000 [$402K] and rising in this financial year.

“Our special schools are running at a very high level of capacity,” he said. “Many actually are over capacity as tribunals are requiring them to take over their published number to admit (PAN).

“In recent years there has been considerable growth in pupils identified as having SEND and in those requiring an EHCP, pupils requiring alternative provision and pupils requiring specialist provision. This shows no signs of abating.

“As a result, many local authorities have found that the high needs block has been insufficient to fully meet identified needs….

“Currently, there is year-on year growth in these areas and with this unstainable demand on the HNB.”

…”We’re having to use high-cost out-of-county special school placements because our special schools are full and that’s causing expenditure. There’s ongoing growth in the number of EHCPs across the system…

…”Any further work that we do to allocate funds will increase that overspend which will then be rolled into next year,” he said.

This year’s NNC budget for out-of-county placement top-ups was £7.2m [$9.8M], but projections show the actual cost may be as high as £9.3m [$12.6M] – a £2.1m [$2.8M] difference.

…”We are always going to need to use out-of-county specialist placements because we simply can’t meet the needs of every child locally.

“However, our special schools are full…

…the high needs funding panel meant that ‘water behind the dam was building up.’

She added that ‘needs were piling up.’

Amid rising numbers of children who needed EHCPs, the committee heard there had been ‘deep concerns’ around high needs funding, which was introduced in 2017. The education sector told the committee that the funding levels were ‘unsustainable’ and had not kept pace with increasing demand. 

 “Unless we can address the issues about SEND funding, the whole system will implode at some point.”

Of course whoever wrote this doesn’t ask the obvious: Why are the special schools in Northamptonshire “full to bursting”?

Here are some other stories I found over the past week.

Norfolk: Currently half of disabled kids wait over 5 months for a special ed plan for school. (But hey, it used to be 92 percent of kids waited over 5 months.)

Hartlepool: There’s been ‘significantly increased funding’ for “high needs block” amounting to a $2M “boost” from the national government.

A member of the council said, ‘It’s welcome’… ‘It’s pleasing’ …

It’s only a short term solution, however.

Danielle Swainston, council assistant director for joint commissioning, said: “We know that the pressures in terms of special educational needs and disabilities continues to be a challenge.

“Even though we have had an increase in funding we do know that we have got pressures that continue to be seen across this budget.”

Although the funding has seen increases for the past three years, the children’s services committee previously had to submit requests to the Secretary of State to transfer funding from other school budgets to balance the high needs costs.

Northern Ireland: Almost half of education funding increase goes to SPED, $25M out of $54M.

Suffolk: The county council pays $43K to parents for failing to provide SPED help.

570 parents lobbied for change.

…”These complaints are but the tip of an enormous iceberg of injustice. Only a few parents have the resources to push their complaints this far.”

It called for “drastic action” to be taken.

The county council said the higher level of pay-outs reflected the greater demand for SEND places and increased number of complaints….

Scarborough: “Strong demand” for SPED places.

Ireland: Education report shows SPED numbers “have risen substantially in recent years.”

the number of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream primary have risen substantially in recent years, from 4,836 in 2016 to 7,510 in 2020, while the number of special needs assistants (SNAs) has increased from 12,634 in 2016 to 17,713 in 2020…

Cork, Ireland: $3M will be used to convert a primary school into a special school. The principal is ‘very happy’ and tells us ‘there is clearly great demand.’

Also from Cork: There is a desperate situation for many parents of special needs children who don’t have a school place. We’re told, “In the whole issue of special education, the lack of places is quite stark.”

“The most important figure provided by the NCSE is that 193 primary schools have ASD provision for students and only 70 are available at post-primary level,” Mr O’Sullivan said. “There is nearly a 3:1 ratio of ASD provision in primary schools compared to secondary schools.”

I can guarantee that we’ll be seeing many more reports about these county councils going into the red (AKA “overspends”) because of the “increasing demand” due to “high needs students.”

Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.

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