New report shows special education challenges continue

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April 28, 2014

People for Education's new report shows student-teacher ratios in special education on the rise and unequal access to special education supports.

Funding has increased, but boards continue to spend more than they receive from the province

The report is based on surveys from 1,349 elementary and secondary schools across Ontario. It shows that 17% of elementary students and 23% of secondary school students receive special education assistance, percentages that have increased steadily over the last 15 years.

Funding for special education has also increased steadily. This year, the provincial budget for special education is $2.72 billion, more than 10% of the total K-12 education budget. But even that amount may be insufficient: 57 of the province’s 72 school boards spend more on special education than they receive from the province.

Report outlines challenges

Among the findings in the report:graph - students to teachers ratio bar

  • In elementary schools, there is an average per school of 37 students with special education needs for every 1 special education teacher. In secondary schools the average ratio is 74 to 1.
  • Only 39% of elementary schools and 32% of secondary schools have access to a regularly scheduled psychologist. In Northern Ontario, only 8% of elementary schools have regular access.
  • 25% of elementary schools principals report that “some”, “most” or “all” parents use private assessments, which can cost from $2000 to $3000 and allow families to “jump the queue” for special education services.  Private assessments are more prevalent in schools with higher average family incomes.
  • In 44% of elementary schools and 32% of secondary schools, not all students with special education needs have access to the assistive technology that was recommended for them. Some schools report that parents are fundraising to pay for these vital tech supports.

Some students asked to stay home

People for Education asked a new question this year. It was based on an increase in calls the organization receives from parents asking whether principals have the right to ask them to keep their child with special education needs home from school for all or part of the day. The survey asked principals whether they have ever made this recommendation.

  • 49% of elementary and 41% of secondary principals report they have asked a parent to keep their child with special education needs home for at least part of the school day.

Principals’ reasons for recommending a child not attend school ranged from concerns about student safety, to mental health issues that made it difficult for a student to cope with a full day, to being understaffed.

Schools recommending students with special education needs not attend school
Elementary schools Secondary schools
Had to recommend a student with special education needs not attend school full day 49% 40%
In those schools, the reason for recommendation:
                       … for safety 81% 67%
                       … student health 27% 55%
                       … necessary supports unavailable 32% 19%

Recommendations for change

The report says that planned changes to the funding formula for special education may result in a better match between the distribution of special education funds and level of student need within each board. But without more information on the effectiveness of a range of special education programs and supports, and without more consistent standards across school boards, it may be difficult to judge.

Among the recommendations for change:

  • the creation of a special education ombudsman office;
  • increased funding to ensure that no child is unable to attend school for the full day due to a shortage of resources;
  • a plan to monitor the impact of changes to the special education funding model;
  • a framework to support ongoing evaluation of special education services; and
  • a standardized processes for assessment, identification and placement to provide adequate, timely and equitable services and access to education for every Ontario child.

To read the full report, click here.

To read the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario’s response to the report, click here.

Listen to Annie Kidder talk about the report on CBC’s The Current, click here.

Watch Annie Kidder talk about the report on CTV, click here.

Read the Toronto Star’s article about the report, click here.

Read the Globe and Mail’s article about the report, click here.

Read the Toronto Sun’s article about the report, click here.

To join the special education conversation, click here.