The report identified 7 themes that the subcommittees indicated recurred continually across all work. These include:
- Complexity of the issue
- The need for early identification and remediation of reading disabilities
- A focus on least restrictive means
- Multi-tiered supports
- Partnerships between parents, students, teachers, professionals and administrators
- Special education is NOT a place
- A need to focus on transition to adult life
School Funding Change
Among the report’s 27 recommendations was a call to modify the current school funding formula based on a statewide average count of students, a so-called “census-based” method as the measure is ineffective and does little to lower special-needs classification rates in the state. Rather, the report recommends the state go back to providing aid to students based on their individual needs and disabilities.
An Accounting of Special Ed Students & Disputes
The report also called on the state Department of Education to conduct a thorough and annual accounting of what districts spend on special education, echoing a longtime complaint that the state doesn’t even know the full scope of the costs of programs provided for the 200,000 students who are classified.
Similarly, the task force, citing New Jersey’s higher rate of legal disputes between families and schools regarding special education compared to most other states, recommended that the state track the number of disputes and the associated costs.
Finally, other recommendations include a focus on greater cooperation and partnerships across districts and schools, better training of school leaders when it comes to special-education needs and strategies, and providing stronger guidance to special-education parent advisory committees that are required by the state.
About the Taskforce
The report comes years after the initial legislation establishing the taskforce was signed (the Taskforce was established by the Governor’s signature back in March of last year). See P.L.2013, c.31 (S-600 / A-1365 (Beck/Ruiz/Rible/Angelini)). Appointments were made to the body in April of last year. NJPSA had two members on the taskforce – Dr. Barbara E. Frascella is the Association’s representative and Kerri Lee Walsifer of the Spring Lake school district. Ms. Walsifer serves as a Supervisor of Special Education in Spring Lake.
The taskforce held 4 public hearings around the State and also conducted significant work through sub-committees, including the review of prior commissions or taskforces focused on the subject. The body met 10 times to compile its list of recommendations.
The body was tasked with “studying various issues related to improving the funding, delivery, and effectiveness of special education programs and services for public school students.” Under the law, the task force was to examine issues including, but not limited to:
- the evaluation of practices for classifying and educating students who are eligible for special education;
- the development of best practices for education professionals working with special education students;
- strategies to reduce the costs associated with the placement of eligible students in out-of-district public schools or private schools, including the development of in-district special education programs and services; and
- the development of standards and appropriate oversight to ensure that programs and services address the needs of students, focus on student achievement, and assess the effectiveness of programs and services.
The task force consisted of 17 members including a member appointed through NJPSA’s recommendation.