New Mexico Making Progress on Special Needs Funding and Education
New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) has a dedicated Special Education Bureau to oversee special education programs and curriculums in the state’s 89 school districts. Just under 14 percent of the state’s students are covered in whole or in part by those programs, a number that has increased with the escalation of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses among children nationwide.
There are just over 4,200 special needs students in New Mexico public schools, and about 2,500 special education teachers available to work with them individually. The ratio is excellent, far better than the recommended 6:1 ratio for special education classrooms. When the state’s 3,000 paraprofessional educators and specialists are factored in, the numbers are even more favorable.
Despite the excellent number of helping hands around New Mexico special educations classrooms, it’s more important than ever for teachers to develop the advanced skills that can only come with experience and a graduate degree in special education.
Funding Flaws Leads to Controversy; Adaptation Leads to Success
The state was cited for failing to fund special education adequately in 2011, following a budget reduction of around $46 million.
The good news is that the situation was stabilized and the budget increased to its current level of $442 million annually, allowing teachers to begin addressing proficiency issues among disabled students throughout the state. By bringing in more highly trained teachers and implementing a variety of special programs, the hope is to improve the current ten percent reading and math proficiency level and 25 percent science proficiency level. Among these new programs is the Individual Education Program, in which parents are brought in for regular progress update meetings to keep them in the loop on how their child is performing and progressing.
A 2014 survey of parents reveals that the program works. More than 60 percent of parents had a positive view generally of how the school system accommodated special needs students. Teachers received accolades for encouraging parents to be equal partners in the education process, and for respecting students and expecting them to succeed. Ninety-five percent of parents felt that students were receiving appropriate services both at home and at school.
Master’s-educated Teachers Making a Difference in New Mexico Schools
The rise of diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the general student population has required school districts all across the country to adapt quickly.
In the Albuquerque District alone, more than 630 students were found to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Teachers there quickly instituted autism-specific programs at seventeen different schools in the system, including a dedicated Autism Center at Highland High School.
Over the past five years, the student population at the Autism Center has increased by nearly 90 percent. Seventy-three percent are minorities. But despite the multiplying difficulties of disadvantaged students from poor and minority backgrounds, the district has had success, boosting graduation rates to 63 percent, almost 20 percent better than the state average of 46 percent. The suspension and expulsion rate dropped below two percent. And almost 47 percent of graduates had moved on to college within one year of graduation.
The district has also made good use of grants from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which have allowed the procurement of assistive devices for students whose families might not otherwise have been able to afford them.
Today’s special education teachers have to be familiar with more than just teaching—understanding the regulatory and funding framework is more important than ever to get students the resources they need, making a master’s-level education a valuable commodity for special education teachers.