The Quality of Life Argument in Public Funding of Special-Needs Students in North Carolina

Article excerpt

This paper exploits the possibility of explaining the geographical distribution of special education students in North Carolina based on some quality of life traits. The results show that enrollment of special education students is highly correlated with personal income, population, government revenue and the number of AFDC and food stamps recipients. However, the enrollment of special education is not highly correlated with average SAT scores and the level of expenditure on education per student.

The issue of equity in education is one that cannot be swept under the carpet by public policymakers. Equity focuses on making education available, attainable and affordable for all citizens. Much of educational legislation and regulation designed to improve equity in the latter half of the twentieth century stemmed from the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. As Howe and Miramontes (1992) point out, three important principles were articulated in this decision: individuals in modern society need a decent formal education as a condition for a decent quality of life; separating students is harmful to their self-concepts and reduces their achievement; and following from the first two, separate educational facilities are "inherently unequal" and are therefore prohibited (p. 26). Although the Brown decision was applied to the issue of race, the arguments and outcomes have been extended to special education. One of the earliest cases on special needs students as a result of the climate created by the Brown ruling was Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Citizens (PARC) v. Pennsylvania State in 1972 in which a state association and parents of certain retarded children brought class action seeking declaratory judgement that statutes pertaining to exclusion of retarded children from program of education and training in public schools were unconstitutional. The historic legal ruling that resulted from this case has had a major impact on funding for special needs students. The ruling stated that all children must be provided access to a free public education appropriate to their ability to learn.

Another significant ruling in Mills v. Board of Education (in Washington, DC, 1972) also impacted special education policy and funding. The plaintiffs alleged that although they can benefit from an education either in regular classrooms with supportive services or in special classes adopted to their needs, they have been labeled as having behavioral problems -- mentally retarded, hyperactive, and emotionally disturbed -- and denied admissions to the public schools or excluded from classes after admission, with no provision for alterative placement or periodic review. In the ruling in this case, it was stated that constitutional rights must be afforded citizens despite the greater expense involved. If sufficient funds were not available to finance all of services and programs that were needed and desirable in public school systems, then available funds must be expanded equitably in such manner that no child was entirely excluded from publicly supported education consistent with his needs and abilities. Furthermore, the right to education was deemed inclusive of a broad range of handicapped children, and hence, the practice of forbidding exclusion of handicapped children from regular school assignment unless provided with due process was put in place. The passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act by Congress in 1975 (amended to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, PL101-476) mandating special education services in any state that wished to continue receiving federal education aid, was another major force affecting the funding of special education students (Thompson, et al 1994, pp. 239-240).

However, the major issue that has been raised in the literature on special education is finance, or specifically the rising cost of special education. Thus, special education has mainly been discussed from the point of view of funding. …


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