Public education is a brier field of policy issues. Among the thorniest of all is how to educate America’s high-need students—those who are severely disabled, either physically or mentally. Though they make up a small portion of students, the education of high-need students can have widespread impacts.
In order deliver an adequate (if not excellent) education to those students, schools may need to hire instructors with specialized skills and a full-time nurse, or they may need to purchase expensive equipment. For a small school district or a charter school, serving just one high-need student could stress budgets—and crowd out resources that would have been otherwise allocated to general-education students.
Nevertheless, a civil society should provide good educational opportunities for all children, including those with special needs. But this objective presents policymakers with a seemingly intractable problem: How can states and districts provide the necessary resources to educate high-need students without breaking the bank or straining services for general-education students?
A recent brief by Daniela Fairchild and Matt Richmond, my Fordham colleagues, offers sensible solutions to this conundrum. To begin, they define “high-need students” as those who cost at least three times more than a typical general-education student. In Ohio, this definition would cover students who are identified as multi-handicapped, deaf, blind, or autistic or students who have had a traumatic brain injury.
The authors put forth three recommendations for policymakers: (1) Create “cooperatives,” which would serve high-need students from multiple schools, thereby taking advantage of economies of scale; (2)...