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Survey of Special Education Professionals Draws Attention to Budget-Cut Effects

Budget cuts are leading to increased class sizes, higher caseloads, and fewer opportunities for professional development, according to a coalition of more than 30 groups tasked with bringing attention to the effects of personnel shortages for students with special needs.

The National Coalition of Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services—NCPSSERS, for "short"—is using as one of its talking points a collection of responses from about 1,000 special educational professionals. The non-scientific poll, released earlier this month, included respondents from every state and from a variety of different education fields, including special education teachers, administrators, school social workers, school psychologists, and principals.

The vast majority of poll respondents, over 90 percent, said their school had been affected by budget cuts. Many cited a combination of cuts from federal budget sequestration and state and local funding reductions. Sequestration has cut about $600 million from the federal funds allotted to special education, reducing it to about $11 billion for fiscal year 2013. 

The reductions due to budget cuts are coming on top of persistent vacancies that existed in states before the recession and sequestration, said Kim Hymes, the senior director for policy and advocacy for the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Va., which is a member of the coalition. She said that the coalition plans to share these results with lawmakers, who may not be hearing as much about the effects of budget cuts on special education as they are about cuts to other areas. And it's not just teachers and principals who are being affected, she said, it's others who work with students, such as paraprofessionals and social workers. 

"One issue that is on the table now is what to do with sequestration," Hymes said. "We need our policymakers to be better informed." 

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