Accommodating a Growing Number of Students with Special Needs in Alabama
Non-profit group Alabama School Connection (ASC) serves educators, legislators, and community members as a resource for information on the latest news concerning Alabama’s K-12 public education system. Special education features prominently, and for good reason. With every new school year comes a better understanding of how educators can best accommodate the growing number of students with special needs.
According to ASC’s latest research, as of 2014 Alabama’s public school system served the needs of:
- 31,863 students diagnosed with learning disabilities
- 17,099 students diagnosed with speech or language impairments
- 6,334 students with autism
- 6,218 students determined to have an intellectual disability
- 5,404 students with developmental delays
- 1,308 with emotional disabilities
In total that year, more than 80,000 children were enrolled in special ed programs, representing nearly 11 percent of the total student body in Alabama’s public school system.
State Funding for Special Education Teacher Salaries
In April of 2016, the Alabama Senate put its stamp of approval on the 2017 Education Trust Fund budget. Totaling $6.3 billion, it is the state’s largest education budget allocation since 2008. Included in the budget were salary increases for special ed teachers, ensuring that those earning $75,000 or less are able to look forward to a four percent raise.
Recent years saw substantial funds being allocated to special education teacher salaries in Alabama:
- 2012 – $147 million
- 2013 – $146.3 million
- 2015 – $119.3 million
- 2014 – $129.3 million
How Master’s Prepared Special Ed Teachers Are Making a Difference in the Lives of Their Students
Special education teachers play an instrumental role in helping their students graduate from high school, giving them a better chance to succeed later in life. While just 52% of Alabama seniors with special needs graduated in 2012, by 2015 this had increased to 72%.
Research supports the contention that special ed teachers make a huge difference in the lives of their students. The Alabama State Department of Education’s Special Education Services Section teamed up with a broad array of stakeholders to analyze data and find out how to better ensure the success of these students. The findings revealed a significant drop in reading and math proficiency when students moved from primary to middle school.
After looking closely, the investigative coalition determined the drop in proficiency was because students who were receiving special education in grade school were being placed in general education classrooms once they got to middle school. This finding was particularly alarming in light of the fact that middle school is all too often the crossroads where poor performing students begin making the decision to drop out of school. The findings point to a clear solution, ensuring that special needs students will continue to have the support they need during the critical middle school years.
Montgomery Public School (MPS) Special Education Director Katrina Johnson is just one example of how master’s-prepared educators are making an important difference in the lives of their students. She spoke at an event held at Wilson Junior Elementary School in Southeast Montgomery meant to raise awareness in the community about the unique needs of students with autism.
Wilson Junior Elementary School is one of three elementary schools in the district to house a dedicated autism unit. The Summer Social Skills program at Wilson is just one example of how these dedicated autism units are developing unique and effective approaches to teaching vital social skills that will benefit young students for the rest of their lives. In one activity meant to help build social skills, K-2 students sit in a circle and talk to one another. Special ed teachers recognize the challenges this simple exercise poses to a child with autism. This activity has been successful in achieving its three underlying goals: getting young students used to following directions, allowing them to participate in group activities, and helping them make eye contact with friends.