Dedicated Special Education Teachers Prevail Even While Feeling Programs are Underfunded
About 62,000 students with disabilities are served through Kansas’ special education programs. Even with a $539 million annual special education budget, special educators still feel that their classrooms and programs are underfunded (The Topeka Capital-Journal 2016).
In 2016, a bill was proposed to drop gifted programs from the special education budget, but parents and educators alike spoke out against the bill. 14,000 students in Kansas qualified for gifted special education through the public school system that year, with $12 million allocated to hiring teachers and funding programs to serve them. Many special educators feel that if gifted program funding is dropped, the special education programs in Kansas will suffer (The Wichita Eagle, 2016).
It’s a popular consensus—special educators in Kansas agree that additional funding is necessary to provide truly excellent educational services to children with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, emotional disturbances, or other disorders that affect learning.
Teachers with Master’s Degrees in Special Education Are the Backbone of Successful Programs
Despite the lack of funds for special education classrooms, teachers can make a difference by working with their school system to identify gaps in student’s education. This might involve helping students get involved in clubs and groups, or helping students learn life skills along with classroom knowledge.
For instance, Andrew Benton, a paraeducator in the Kansas City school district, makes a huge difference for the students in his classroom. Benton works mainly with students suffering from emotional or behavioral disorders, and is working towards his teaching degree to become a full-time teacher. In Benton’s experience, more funding would go a long way to help his students. “The state keeps changing standards and the tests that go along with them, but they don’t supply money for updated materials,” Benton says. However, even despite the lack of funding and the limited hours available for paraeducators, he says each day as a para is “an adventure.”
Kak Eli-Schneider, another exceptional teacher, was recognized with the National Association of Special Education Teachers “Outstanding Special Education Teacher Award” in 2016. Eli-Schneider has been working as a special education teacher in the Washburn Rural school district for over 20 years, although she’s worked with many different populations and now currently works with young adults age 18-21.
Eli-Schneider was recognized for her contributions to her student’s lives. She places a special focus on getting her students prepared for life outside of high school, rather than just focusing on graduation or test scores. She works with students who have already completed graduation requirements and helps them learn skills that will build their resume, prepare them for a job, and achieve success after leaving high school.
One of the ways that Eli-Schneider helps her students is by welcoming them into the Circle of Friends club, which seeks to build relationships between students with disabilities and traditional students.
The Unified Special Olympics is another group in the school that helps students with disabilities integrate with traditional students and connect over a common love of sports.