Overspending on Learning Disabilities: A Bad IDEA?

A high number of minority students are labeled as having learning disabilities due to legislation that offers financial incentives to schools based on the number of attending disabled students.

Schools financial incentives to shift the bell curve
Schools financial incentives to shift the bell curve

A recent study of Arizona schools revealed that an extraordinarily high number of minority students are being labeled as “learning disabled” because of “perverse financial incentives” due to recent changes to IDEA legislation, which offers financial incentives to schools based upon the amount of disabled students that attend each school.

Recent national studies have determined that “nearly 2 million children have preventable learning “disabilities,” and the number of students classified as learning disabled could be reduced by as much as 70 percent with rigorous early reading instruction. Recent studies indicate that many of these children are technically “learning deficient,” which means that they require “remedial reading instruction, not special education programs.”

The prevention of this discrimination can be resolved through intervention programs designed to improve the literacy of students. The Arizona study revealed that in “predominantly white school districts, minority students are classified as learning disabled at significantly higher rates.” The separation of these students into special education programs, determined by financial incentives, is eerily close to perpetrating “the neglect and segregation of even larger student populations of minorities nationwide.”

This pattern became evident in as the study took into consideration each school’s “spending, student poverty, community poverty, and other factors.” After evaluating the occurrence of this trend, the study estimates that “Arizona taxpayers spend nearly $50 million each year on unnecessary special education programs.”

For a complete version of this study, visit the Goldwater Institute web site.

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