Wow!  It is amazing how involved I can be in one branch of education, without knowing about the battle taking place in another, special education.  As I was completing my EdTech 541 assignment, Assistive Technology, not only was I amazed about all the products and companies that exists for those with special needs, but I began to notice the cost of these products, and I kept thinking, “That’s a lot of money for just a few students.”  When I finished that assignment, I read my professors prompt for this week’s reflection.

Rationale for Assistive/Adaptive Technology: In this forum please respond to the following: Schools, universities, and libraries are struggling with tight budgets. How can we justify spending a lot of money to buy assistive technologies that might only be used by a small number of people?

When I did a quick Internet Search for “the cost of special education” most hits returned articles or publications that paint a grim picture.  Marsha Sutton (2012) of the Del Mar Times, discusses the fiscal dilemma facing one school district in California, but in a lot of ways, her article represents a fiscal crisis in school districts in all of the United States.  Some of her report include:

  • $354,000 to transport about 30 special education students in 2012-2013. That’s almost $12,000 per student, more than it costs to educate a student for an entire year.
  • In 2010-2011, San Dieguito’s cost for all special education services was over $18 million, and for 2011-2012, unofficial numbers are $19 million. The district’s total budget is about $102 million.
  • In 2010-2011, federal and state funds paid 63 percent of the costs… But in 2011-2012, federal and state funding will only cover 53 percent, forcing SDUHSD (the school district) to pay 47 percent – about $8.46 million.

The purpose of the article was to inform of the situation of costs related to special education.  Most of the focus was on transportation, contracted services, and staff salary.  There was not mention of technology initiatives.  However, William W. Sofka Jr. (1997) seeks to offer solutions.  Even he wrote “Evaluating the Cost and Benefit of Special Education” approximately 15 years ago, it shows that this debate was very active in that time.  This implies that the debate about the amount of funding for special education will continue, regardless of the economic climate.  However, he does lay out a model that helps administrators to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of special ed programs, comparing it to the costs.  He suggests bringing ideas to the discussion and label them in the following four categories: 1) Low Benefit, High Cost, 2) High Benefit, High Cost, 3) Low Benefit, Low Cost, and 4) High Benefit, Low Cost.  These four categories can be very useful in evaluating the various technology options.

Universal design for Learning (UDL) is another principle that has emerged in an effort to find solutions for people with special needs, while benefiting people in the general public (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).    The logic is that if everyone can benefit from it, even those with special needs, there is no need to label it as a special education resource.  The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) has specifically looked at technologies role in serving people with special needs, but also provide greater usability and access to general users.  Many standard features in today’s technology equipment are available on resources that the schools already have.  Educating the teachers and administrators on these pre-installed features can help offer solutions at no extra cost.  CAST also provides a resources page, UDL solutions finder, to help educators seek out the best options for serving the needs of all your learner goals.

It is staggering to evaluate the total cost for special education that goes for services, programs, and products.  However, very few will argue for any initiatives to cut this funding because they realize there is a need in a civilized society to reach out and help those with limited abilities.  However, many, like Sofka Jr. (1997) will advocate a need to carefully evaluate those who qualify, so that the system is not abused, and other initiatives, like CAST, are looking for creative ways to make the world a better place for everyone.