Education of children with special needs : the fiscal story of three school divisions
Punshon, Heather Anne
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The purpose of this research was to provide insight into the provision of special education services, and the funding of these services, in some rural areas of the province of Saskatchewan. Three school divisions were selected to provide contrasting settings of rural Saskatchewan. The literature review examined the questions of the rights of the child, equality of educational opportunity and the fair distribution of resources. In addition, different methods of funding education and, in particular, special education were discussed. Since the information about the processes and outcomes of special education provided a background to the fiscal story, the framework for this study was not developed in what might be considered to be the natural order of inputs, processes and outputs used by Davis (1998). The first theme was concerned with the processes of, or the detailed information about, special education services. The second theme was concerned with outcomes, the provision for various transition processes, and information about the evaluation of the program. The final section was concerned with the fiscal question. Revenue and expenditure variables were investigated, compared and contrasted. Through examination of financial records and policy documents and semi-structured interviews with the Secretary Treasurer, the Supervisor of Special Education, special education teachers, and teaching assistants, information was obtained about each school division and was compiled and reported in summary tables. A vignette provides the story of each school division. The data were analyzed using the research questions as a guide. The study showed that numbers of children with special needs are increasing, and that there has been a change in focus from academic needs to behavioural and social needs. Whereas a continuum of service is provided for all children who have need, more consideration is required for children who are between severely disabled and mildly disabled. Provision is made for pre-school interventions and there are extensive transitional and work experience programs. However, little programming for gifted children was observed. Despite the government requirement of extra qualifications for teachers who work in the area of special education, no funding has been provided to the school divisions for upgrading. Special education teachers interviewed for this study tended to work in a supervisory and administrative role. Teaching assistants provided much of the service to the children with special needs. Although concerns were expressed that census based funding does not reflect numbers of children in need, and that assessment and reporting are time consuming and costly, it was felt that the different types of funding for special education in Saskatchewan do provide balance and do not encourage over identification. Funding protocols are predictable, flexible and sensitive to student needs. The findings of this study imply that the expenditures needed to provide special education programs is more than that which is recognized by the government. All three school divisions spent much more on special education than was recognized in the funding protocols. As a result, money was diverted from other requirements. In addition, what is being spent by the school divisions, although adequate for the programs currently being provided, is not adequate for the myriad of programs that the interviewees believe are required.