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Startling special ed violations expose urgent need for more ed choice options

It appears Idaho legislators will adjourn their legislative session unable to pass any expansion in education choice options for families. The failure couldn't come at a worse time.

Idaho Education News has highlighted a special state investigation that found dozens of complaints that school districts across Idaho have inadequate special education services and "were not completely fulfilling their obligations toward all children with disabilities."

From the report:

"Even when students are correctly identified as having a disability, dozens are not getting the services they need, according to state investigation reports from 2023 that EdNews obtained via public records request. More than 400 pages of documents shed light on how schools have foundered their federal responsibility to appropriately educate students with disabilities, a failure pockmarked with a frequent disregard for parents’ concerns, requests, and opinions. 
Violations have been on the rise since the 2019-20 school year, when the pandemic shuttered schools, according to state data. That year, investigation reports identifying violations jumped from 16 cases to 23. Since then — from 2019 to 2023 — there have been an average of 25 findings of noncompliance each school year."

Perhaps most damning is that four Idaho school districts, according to the report, had a half-dozen violations or more. Teachers changed student grades, indicating "they were negotiable," some districts changed IEP's without the knowledge of parents or an IEP team meeting, some teachers were "often absent or left early."

As we have repeatedly encouraged lawmakers to think outside the box and provide more education options for families, Mountain States Policy Center has particularly highlighted the needs of our special ed students, who often need more assistance in the classroom, or more tutoring and therapies outside the classroom setting.

Unfortunately, lawmakers in Idaho this session again failed to advance a parental choice tax credit that would have particularly helped those families who needed it most. Special needs families would have had more access to educational opportunity had legislators passed the reform.

Montana, on the other hand, has passed education savings accounts for special needs students, as have dozens of other states.

In Washington, another report highlights the urgency of helping special needs children: "54% of graduates with intellectual disabilities are not engaging in employment or higher education within a year, and 41% of those with autism fall into the same category."

School districts, and some lawmakers, may contend that they are trying to fix the problem. But these kids will never get those educational years back.

Offering more opportunities - especially for special needs kids - is the least we can do.

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