With tight budget situations, the state of Illinois is currently looking at different ways to alter its budget, save money, and still provide suitable services to citizens, including those who have special educational needs. The state has not yet passed on any of these changes as it is still in the preliminary phases of altering next year’s budget, but it is important if you are the parent of a special needs child to look into the current planned adjustments and to educate yourself.
What is Changing
For several decades, there has been a set restriction on the overall size of classrooms dealing with special needs children. This has always been the case in order to ensure children with certain learning disabilities are able to receive the necessary assistance and care they need. However, with schools falling deeper and deeper into debt, they are not able to afford paying for these added teachers, and so they are looking at removing the restrictions of classroom size so more individuals who fall into the special educational category might end up in the same classroom.
This is also going to remove the restrictions on the number of disabled students in a traditional classroom, should the new budget regulations go into effect. This means a single teacher would have to help not only their traditionally sized classroom, but also several more students with special needs making it more difficult for the teachers to spend added time with everyone who needs it. This means the proposed changes would ultimately affect every student, not just those with disabilities, as every school in the public sector has multiple students who require additional assistance.
Who does this affect? Nearly everyone involved in the public school system. Given the nature of teaching special needs students, there is a time and energy commitment that teachers make to these students. It may prove difficult for students in the classroom to adjust to others getting more attention along with the natural curiosity that will take place as students interact with their new classmates. How will this affect each party? Will it help the children to learn more about diversity? Will it slow down the teaching process?
As of right now, the state of Illinois already has one of the worst records in the entire nation when it comes to providing special time for students who require it, and these changes would only make the situation that much worse. According to the United States Census, there are about 4.1 percent of children living in metro areas in Illinois (or 2,006,661) with a disability requiring special needs. The census also tells us that 85 to 89.3 percent of those children are enrolled in public school. If just 5 percent of those special needs children (or about 85,283 children) currently in Illinois Public schools were forced into mainstream classrooms we could see a huge change in the way those students develop (not to mention the change in the classroom environment). Currently, many of the rooms and teachers who work specifically with students who have disabilities facilitate around five students per teacher. This could possibly change all the way up to fifteen students per teacher, depending on the base of the students’ needs.
There are not many other adjustments looking to be made by the Illinois budget in the coming year, as this alone is going to save the state millions of dollars in teacher salary (each school is not going to require as many teachers who work with these students.) By laying off multiple teachers per district, this is going to add up in helping the state balance its budget and reduce spending, but it also may end up reducing the quality of education everyone in the school receives.
Brynna Baldauf is a Phoenix local with many years of professional child care and teaching methods in her past. She currently works for a small tech firm as a research assistant.