Federal Funding Helps Hire Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers
Special education in Nebraska is on the road to improvement. Nebraska is one of seven states to be awarded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help recruit and train principals, teachers, and other school personnel and provide a better education for children with disabilities. Nebraska’s grant totals $795,000.
The State Personnel Development Grants Program, authorized through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), distributes grants to help states reform their special education systems. The program is focused on making improvements in a number of areas, including early intervention, education, and transition services for children with disabilities.
The grant awards support several special education projects, including:
- Comprehensive online professional development
- Recruitment and retention of highly qualified special education teachers
- Teacher coaching and mentoring
- Training in reading achievement for students with specific learning disabilities
- Training on how to merge students with disabilities into the general education curriculum
The funding will help support a variety of projects, including training teachers about ways to help students with disabilities access the general education curriculum and recruiting and retaining special education teachers.
Nebraska’s Special Education Population
Nebraska’s recent “State of the Schools Report” revealed a total student count of 312,281 in the 2014-15 school year. That same year, 48,977 children with disabilities were enrolled in the state’s public schools.
Among Nebraska students with disabilities, the largest percentage (36.6 percent) was defined as those with specific learning disabilities, followed by those with:
- Speech or language impairment: 24.8 percent
- Other health impairment: 14.4 percent
- Intellectual disability: 9.3 percent
- Autism: 5.6 percent
- Emotional disturbance: 5.0 percent
- Hearing impairment: 1.5 percent
- Multiple disabilities: 1 percent
- Traumatic brain injury: 0.5 percent
- Visual impairment: 0.5 percent
Year over year, the number of special education students in Nebraska has increased steadily in the past 5 years:
- 2010-11: 45,836 special education students
- 2011-12: 46,468
- 2012-13: 47,086
- 2013-14: 48,422
- 2014-15: 48,977
The population of special needs students with autism was among the fastest growing in recent years, increasing from 1,862 students during the 2010-11 school year to 2,805 students during the 2014-15 school year.
The good news is that teachers are better prepared to serve the unique needs of this growing population of students. In the 2010-11 school year, 45.72 percent of all teachers in the state held a master’s degree. By the 2014-15 school year, the number of master’s-educated teachers had risen to 52.16 percent.
Nebraska School for the Blind Continues to Recruit Master’s-Prepared Educators
Nebraska City’s Nebraska Center for the Education of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired just celebrated its 140th birthday, and the special education teachers here couldn’t be prouder.
This school helps educate and improve the lives of more than 800 blind or visually impaired students. Founded in 1875, the Center sits on a nine-acre campus and boasts classrooms, dormitories, apartments, an exercise area, a resource center, and even a bowling alley.
Educators at the Center work closely with school districts across the state to assess the educational needs of students, which may include everything from learning Braille to using the Internet.
The Center serves students ages 5 to 21. It also assesses the needs of younger children before they enter school. Many of the students have multiple disabilities, in addition to being blind or visually impaired.
The Center, which is supported by the state, has a staff of 40 that includes teachers, paraprofessional educators, and related staff members. The school, however, does not have enough teachers to adequately serve their 800 students while assessing the needs of students in schools throughout the state. As a result, recruitment—particularly in sparsely populated rural areas—is ongoing.
Recruitment efforts are challenging, given that teachers must have a special education endorsement for the blind and visually impaired or a master’s degree.
The special education teachers of the Center are proud of the good things taking place here. An annual prom is even held—a great opportunity to teach life skills.