Education Law Center is calling on a State task force to address several urgent barriers to improving delivery of special education for New Jersey’s 220,000 students with disabilities.
The Legislature’s Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students was established in April 2014. The 17-member Task Force is directed to study the funding, delivery, and effectiveness of special education programs and services and is charged with examining best practices in classifying and placing students, strategies for reducing out-of-district placement costs, and improving State oversight.
The Task Force must issue a report with findings and recommendations to improve special education by the end of December 2014.
In written comments, ELC is urging the Task Force to give top priority to full funding of the cost of special education through the State’s school funding formula – the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA). Since 2010, Governor Chris Christie and the Legislature have failed to fund the year-to-year increases in special education funding as required by the formula, and have not followed through on a detailed evaluation of the SFRA’s controversial “census-based” method of funding special education, as recommended in 2011 by independent experts retained by the NJ Department of Education.
ELC is also recommending:
? maintaining existing procedural protections for students with disabilities and their parents;
? intensifying efforts to build connections between general and special education, particularly in the areas of response to intervention and inclusion;
? increasing the participation of parents with limited English by Improving translation services;
? investigating barriers for English Language Learner students, including over- and under-identification for special education, lack of evaluation in their native language, and inadequate access to language acquisition and special education services when both are required.
“The Task Force must carry out its charge comprehensively, without cutting corners,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney who authored the submission together with ELC Skadden fellow, Jessica Levin. “We need to follow through on the expert recommendations already made on special education funding. Because it’s unrealistic to make detailed recommendations by December 31, the Task Force can propose a specific plan for further study of critical areas in need of reform.”
Ms. Athos added that the State “must commit to a process that will get us to the provision of effective and efficient services for all students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment appropriate for their needs, and the Task Force can begin that process.”
ELC is also supporting comments and recommendations made by Disability Rights New Jersey and the New Jersey Special Education Practitioners.
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