As members of the Legislature, one of our most important responsibilities is to ensure that all of our children are receiving the highest quality education we can possibly provide. Every child in the state of New Jersey should receive equal educational opportunities and it is the responsibility of the state to make sure that that this is the case. Unfortunately, there are significant disparities in our education system and especially, in the area of special education.
A recent series of newspaper articles has demonstrated that there are significant inconsistencies in the quality of special education in New Jersey and that millions of dollars are being wasted on inefficient and ineffective special education programs.
According to the Department of Education, there are about 215,000 students in New Jersey who are currently eligible to receive special education services. The cost of providing special education and related services beyond general education is an additional $11,000 per pupil. Clearly, with this many students requiring special education, we need substantial oversight over the system to guarantee that these services are being provided in the most efficient manner.
Even though the amount of money apportioned to fund special education continues to increase, many public schools in the state are unable to provide effective special education and related services for their students within the district. In fact, many schools are forced to send students to out-of-district public schools or private schools in order to meet their needs, which can increase the overall cost of providing special education and creates further distress for the students and their parents.
While it is important to note that there are districts in New Jersey that are providing effective special education programs, there are many districts that are not providing adequate programs and for this reason thousands of families are forced to move or spend an enormous amount of money to send their children to other districts or private schools.
The articles highlighted a number of problems with the delivery of services. For instance, New Jersey schools are not required to report performance evaluations on the effectiveness of their special education programs. In addition, teachers are not required to learn how to educate autistic students, even if they have them in their classroom. Schools can claim to offer specific special education services without having to meet any requirements or performance standards. For this and other reasons, there are serious inconsistencies among programs across the state and there are children being deprived from receiving the quality services they greatly need.
In light of these alarming examples, I have introduced Assembly Bill A-3712, which would establish a task force to study various issues related to improving special education programs and services for public school students. Passing this legislation would be the first step towards rectifying the discrepancies in special education programs and reducing the cost of special education across our state.
The task force, created under this legislation, will consist of 15 members, including the Commissioner of Education, parents of children receiving special education, teachers, and representatives from organizations involved in special education, such as the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities and the New Jersey School Boards Association.
The task force will be responsible for studying issues related to improving the funding, delivery, and effectiveness of special education programs and services for public school students. They will also look at the current evaluation of practices for classifying and educating students who are eligible for special education programs and services and develop standards and oversight to make certain that programs and services meet the needs of students.
I urge all of my colleagues in the Legislature to show their support for this legislation by signing on as a co-sponsor and taking swift action to pass the bill so that we may begin to examine the issues with special education programs and funding and work towards improving their quality and efficiency.
While I understand that evaluating special education services may be a difficult road to travel, it is important to give the children and families who require special services a light at the end of the tunnel. We must also give taxpayers confidence in knowing that every cent that is going to special education is being spend wisely to help those who are dependent on us to provide them with support.
Under the current system, too many children are not getting the quality education they deserve. At the same time, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars for ineffective and inefficient services. A thorough review of the special education system in New Jersey is a good first step toward getting special education on track, providing better services for the children and families who require them and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being spent in a cost-efficient manner.
The children, who need these vital services, as well as the over-taxed citizens of this state, deserve nothing less.
Assemblyman Dave Rible
11th Legislative District