Glimmer of hope for Mississippi’s overlooked special-needs students

Mississippi’s Department of Education has made a habit of pouring taxpayer money into lawsuits against parents of special-needs students rather than funding improvements in the state’s sub-par program, as parents have requested.

“School districts often spend more money in lawsuits fighting parents of special-needs kids than they would spend to educate the kids if they just did what the parents wanted,” said Allison Hertog, an attorney for Making School Work.

Mississippi has a long history of failing many its special-needs students. Only 23 percent of students in its Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) program graduate high school compared to the state Department of Education’s goal of 66 percent.

High Dropout Rates
Geographical neighbors Texas and Arkansas graduate students with learning disabilities at rates greater than 77 percent, while Mississippi’s overall graduation rate is not even that high.

Unsuccessful students have no substantive proof they are capable of pursuing a bachelor’s degree or career.

Between 2007 and 2012, 15,529 Mississippi special-needs students left school without a diploma, according to U.S. Office of Special Education Programs exit data. The price tag: $1.2 billion in special education costs for few success stories, considering 1-in-11 Mississippi public school students goes through the program.

Seventy percent of special-needs students have either a language impairment, specific learning disability, or other health impairment. These tend to be relatively minor impediments but many still will not receive a degree.

Taxpayer Money Goes to Fight Parents
The state’s education officials appear in denial of the fact that its school districts are not satisfying parents desires and a legal obligation to educate all students.

According to an in-depth report from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, “newly appointed state Superintendent Carey Wright and interim state Special Education Director Therrell Myers, say they’re aware of the problem and have made its fix a priority.”

“The problem is that school districts almost always think they are meeting the needs of these children and are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting parents,” said Jameson Taylor, vice president for policy at the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

But one state representative was honest about the lack of forward movement in the Hospitality state.

“Special-education kids are more expensive, and to some districts, they’re just a bother; I hate to put it that way,” former House Education Chairman Cecil Brown (D-Jackson) told the paper. “It’s not something administrators are well trained in.”

It’s the parents who have resolved to be the catalysts for reform, only after wasting time and taxpayer money trying to rally district officials to better support their kids’ needs.

Heartland
3/25/14