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Title:Effect of special education funding models in Illinois on district placement practice
Author(s):Ambuehl, Ellen
Director of Research:Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hackmann, Donald G.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ostrosky, Michaelene; Cromley, Jennifer G.; Welton, Anjalé
Department / Program:Educ Policy, Orgzn & Leadrshp
Discipline:Ed Organization and Leadership
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Special Education
Abstract:The provision of special education services to students with disabilities has grown dramatically since the passage of Public Law 94-142, the first federal legislation guaranteeing this right to publicly educated children. This legislation ensured that students with disabilities adversely affecting their ability to access the general education curriculum must be provided services within the least restrictive environment of a school setting. For some students with more significant disabilities, the least restrictive environment can mean placement in a self-contained setting or even a separate school. The costs associated with self-contained settings can be high, and school districts rely on federal and state reimbursements to offset expenses. The structure of these special education reimbursements varies dramatically across the United States. In Illinois, school districts rely on a combination of revenue from federal, state, and local governments to address costs associated with educating students with disabilities. For students with severe disabilities, Illinois currently provides a greater reimbursement to school districts for students placed at private school placements rather than public settings, creating a potential incentive to access a more restrictive placement for these individuals. This study sought to examine whether this incentive occurs in practice and how it may influence decision making by special education administrators. A sequential mixed methods design was selected to collect data in two phases. Five research questions were developed to address this topic: (a) How does each Illinois school district’s placement rate of students into separate special education settings compare to the state average placement rate? (b) Are any of five demographic variables (operational expenditure per pupil, district size, percent of students in special education, percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, percentage of non-White students) characteristic of school districts that place students above the statewide average rate into separate settings? (c) What factors guide special education administrators in their decision-making practices regarding the placement of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment? (d) To what degree does a special education director's understanding of Illinois special education funding models influence placement of students into separate settings? and (e) To what extent do the placement decision-making practices of special education directors reflect children’s best interests? The study used a conceptual framework based on the Best Interests of the Student model (Shapiro & Stefkovich, 2011). In the first quantitative phase, placement and demographic data from 859 school districts were used to analyze both the number of students placed into separate facilities and the characteristics of districts with significantly more students placed than the state average. Results showed that 11% of districts in Illinois placed into separate settings at a rate higher than the state average. Findings also revealed that districts with higher operating per pupil expenditures and districts with lower enrollments were more likely to place students into these private therapeutic settings. In the qualitative phase, special education directors working in 12 of 95 districts found significant in the first phase were interviewed regarding least restrictive environment, district placement practices, and awareness and involvement in district special education budgeting. These interviews revealed factors special education administrators considered when making placement decisions, including the severity of a student’s disability, the availability of a continuum of services, enrollment of the district, professional development for faculty and staff, and awareness of funding issues. District directors reported that independent decision making was a critical factor in making ethical decisions for students, and their placement decisions were not influenced by state incentives. Several recommendations for policy development, practice, and further study are presented.
Issue Date:2019-04-02
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Ellen Ambuehl
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-08-23
Date Deposited:2019-05

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