Missoula Schools Struggling With Increase in Special Needs Students
This week, there was an interim legislative meeting on school funding in Helena. According to Missoula County Public school District 1 Superintendent Mark Thane, one of the most discussed topics was the rapid increase in the number of special needs students in Montana classrooms.
"We're obligated by federal mandate to provide services those students with disabilities," Thane said. "The number of students who required direct one-one-one supervision required us to hire twelve additional para-educators. Those positions were not contemplated in the budget, so its in tune between salary and benefits of over $200,000 that it have impacted us this year."
Thane estimated that in Missoula more than ten percent of students required an individualized education plan because of a special need, but says state funding has not been keeping up with the growing need.
"The reality is that we're seeing a lot more students with needs," Thane said. "The case loads continue to climb but special education funding has not increased. Many of the states special education co-ops found themselves in the red and are in danger of having to disband unless their revenue stream changes. There's and inflationary factor built in within most other areas of the budget but that's not true with special education."
Thane says it is unclear why there is a growth in Montana’s special needs student population, but suggested that the increase in the use of dangerous drugs like meth, may be a factor.