SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An audit by the Oregon Secretary of State found that disabled students aren’t receiving adequate support because of limited funding and rising caseloads.
The audit of the 2018-2019 school year said that Oregon doesn’t have a strategic plan to guide the use of special education resources statewide and that means children in some parts of the state have gaps in services, The Bulletin reported Wednesday.
Caseloads are also rising and it’s hard to retain special education teachers. The number of children from birth to pre-kindergarten in special education programs rose from about 9,000 students in 2014 to more than 11,000 in 2018, according to the report. Students with disabilities in Oregon’s K-12 schools rose from more than 78,000 to more than 80,000 between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, the report states. That latter number comprises 13.8% of all K-12 students in Oregon.
Joel Greenberg, a staff attorney for Portland-based advocate group Disability Rights Oregon, said some people theorize that the rise in caseloads is due to children being identified as having special needs at younger and younger ages.
Many of these Oregon students aren’t receiving the amount time and support they need, the audit report states. Only 6.2% of early childhood students who are delayed in three or four types of development receive an adequate level of service, the report states. For students delayed in most or all development areas, that number falls to 0.7%.
Meanwhile, K-12 schools have had difficulty retaining special education staff. The turnover rate for Oregon special education teachers in the 2018-19 school year was 20.4%, compared to 13.7% for all teachers, the report states.
This problem is even more dire for smaller, rural Oregon school districts, as it’s harder for them to attract and retain young teachers.
Colt Gill, head of the Oregon Department of Education said in a letter accompanying the report that he agreed with some of the audit’s recommendations. He also said that COVID-19 will likely limit the state’s ability to provide additional resources because of budget cuts.