How much does this cost? What happens if this happens? What’s the difference between an orchestra and a symphony? If my child gets a disability, does that have any effect? Is the school responsible?
The answer, the answers to these questions are different for every child and every situation.
“To say how much should matter is a big question,” says Elizabeth Astrachan of the School of Education at the University of Utah. “We have very good estimates of what students and their teachers need at school.”
There’s a lot of disagreement in the literature about what exactly “costs” education to families, according to Astrachan, who has been studying the topic for 20 years. It depends where you live, what type of school you’ve got (public/private, private schools only, and charter schools), how many kids get special needs, and so on.
The cost of a year of instruction in public school, for instance, is estimated at $12,632 by the Pew Foundation.
“At a very general level, the difference between what a school costs and what a child is already paying for is really small,” says Astrachan. “For middle class families, and certainly for public schools, school costs are less.”
But the actual costs can really vary by child!
Astrachan points out that if a student does well in school, what really matters are the “means of measuring progress,” to take some measures. What happens with autism is hard to isolate and measure — and the cost of specialized education can range more dramatically than the costs we know are covered by state and local districts.
And the cost of special support can differ dramatically. In New York state, autism spending was $20 million in 2009, while the amount in other states was less than that — $10 million or less, according to Astrach.
It’s this disparity between the state and overall costs — even if the amounts differ — that makes it important to understand the costs of special education.
“It’s a very important issue that needs to be addressed if we’re going to have effective programs,” says Astrachan.
If you just look at the cost of special education, you miss a lot of real costs. For instance, if a child has to move outside her community because of a diagnosis, that will eat up a significant percentage of the money she brings to her school, say experts. At the
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