Schools Struggling with Shortage of Special Education Teachers
Schools across the United States are facing a significant shortage of special education teachers, leading to a reduction in services for students with disabilities. As the new school year begins, the vast majority of states are reporting a lack of staff in special education, forcing districts to limit services and reassign students with disabilities.
Data Reveals Shortage of Special Education Teachers
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, 42 states and Washington, D.C. have a shortage of special education teachers. This shortage impacts every state except for Arkansas, California, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah. While this represents an improvement compared to last year, when only three states did not have shortages, it is still a concerning situation for students with disabilities.
Impact on Students with Disabilities
Denise Marshall, CEO of The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of students with disabilities and their families, highlights how the lack of special educators is affecting students. While schools are not allowed to deny the services outlined in a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), COPAA members have reported instances where districts try to exclude certain services or reduce the amount of specialized services, such as school counseling or speech/occupational therapy. Limitations on IEP services are often attributed to the difficulty in finding qualified staff.
Examples of the Shortage’s Impact
The shortage of special education teachers is having tangible effects on students and schools. In Omaha, Nebraska, for instance, three schools will reportedly have no special education instructors this year. As a result, the school district has informed students with disabilities that they must either transfer to another school or forego their special education services completely.
Increase in Enrollment and Retirement of Teachers
The demand for special educators has been on the rise due to an increase in enrollment in special education programs nationwide. In the past 10 years, enrollment has grown by 800,000 students. At the same time, millions of teachers are expected to retire in the upcoming decade, exacerbating the shortage issue. Advocacy groups, including COPAA, urge Congress to invest more in training programs for special education personnel.
Call for Action
The CEO of COPAA, Denise Marshall, emphasizes the importance of addressing the shortage and investing in the teaching profession. She urges Congress to prioritize programs that train new special education personnel. Families are growing frustrated, and students with disabilities are suffering due to the lack of qualified teachers. It is crucial to elevate the teaching profession to ensure that all students have the support they need to learn and thrive.
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