Report finds schools for disabled cost more

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A report on state-run schools for children with severe disabilities finds it costs more to teach them in separate schools than through their local district.

That's just the conclusion advocates fear, and they say it doesn't tell the whole story.

The Government Review Commission recommended the study, saying Missouri is the only state with a separate state-run system for such students and that the state should study whether its structure is an effective use of funding.

The study does not call for shutting the schools down, and state education officials aren't taking that step either, but advocates and parents fear that will come next.

They say they're particularly wary in light of past administration actions, such as Medicaid cuts and proposals to close the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis and end a program that serves toddlers with developmental disabilities.

The report found it cost $56 million to serve 1,826 severely disabled students last school year. That amounts to only about 15 percent of Missouri students who are mentally retarded. The average cost per student at a state school was $30,677, while the average of a student being taught in local districts was $24,532.

The report based its cost figures on expenses incurred in 27 school districts and two special school districts in Missouri as compared to the costs of educating severely disabled students in state schools.

No expenses were listed for Cape Girardeau, Jackson and other local school districts because severely disabled students in those districts typically are served by the Parkview State School, said Deena Ring, director of special services for the Cape Girardeau School District.

That doesn't mean, however, that some disabled students don't attend local school districts, Ring said.

Ring said disabled students benefit from the services offered by state schools as well as by school districts.

"I am not in the either-or camp," she said. "I don't think it is cut and dried."

Under federal law, she said, the education of disabled students must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"I think the individual child gets lost somewhere in this report," Ring said.

The report from LAN Resources of St. Joseph also concluded that nationwide, severely disabled students are most often taught in a separate classroom within the local district.

"Throughout the nation, the state directors of special education stated that placing students with severe disabilities in a local district setting, with access to regular educational classrooms, while participating in some general education curriculum as best practices," the report stated. "... It was not their goal to place these students in separate facilities."

Southeast Missourian staff writer Mark Bliss contributed to this story.

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