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District's special ed funding battle spotlights state problem

It's an individualized story that spotlights a larger dilemma.

Namely, it's the ongoing tale surrounding material problems with the special education program in the Oakland Unified School District, where many commentators note that a funding shortfall is seriously eroding the services desperately needed by special ed students.

Oakland's problem is hardly singular. School districts all across California are facing stiff financial challenges that undercut the delivery of crucially important teacher-delivered services to kids with special needs who want to learn.

Oakland is not Los Angeles or San Diego, of course, but in a strong sense it is those communities writ large, at least from the standpoint of special ed-related problems it is experiencing.

To wit: A media account of special education challenges in California notes that, while the statewide dropout rate for children involved in special ed programs is 16 percent, it is nearly 30 percent in Oakland.

What is the source of such difficulties?

The above article points to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA legislation mandates that schools in states across the country include children with disabilities and make reasonable accommodations that help them learn and interact with other students.

That is laudable, of course, but at a fundamental level it is simply a common-sense notion and strategy that promotes the well-being of all students.

A problem that has emerged with some force, though, is the sharp reduction in federal funding that school districts in California and nationally are receiving to support special education initiatives. IDEA mandates that as much as 40 percent of program-related costs should be paid by the federal government, but that expectation is not being realized.

In California, notes the above-cited account, "the IDEA grant currently covers roughly 11.5 percent of special ed costs."

That shortfall can obviously hurt students who are the intended beneficiaries of money that is absolutely needed to secure their entitlements under both state and federal law.

It can also, of course, render it dire in a given case for a special education student who is adversely affected to secure a strong legal ally who will take every step necessary to ensure that the school doors remain open to the continued pursuit of a meaningful education.

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