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Increased Special Education Enrollment in California

In the last decade, there has been a marked increase in the number of students enrolling in public schools in California with autism or behavioral delays. However, school district budgets have not been able to keep up with this change. Parents are often forced to change school districts so that their children can attend schools that offer more options for special education students.

Schools have experienced a surge in special education enrollment, with over 96,000 special education students enrolling across the state in the last decade. No one can really explain this surge, however. Researchers say it could be due to population growth, which puts pressure on school district budgets. Additionally, state and federal funding hasn’t kept up with the increase in special education enrollment.

The reasons for the increased prevalence of autism are also unknown. Experts attribute it to awareness, especially in the classroom where teachers are trained to recognize autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there was a 16% increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder from 2012 to 2014.

While the federal government agreed to pay 40 percent of the cost of special education per student, in reality, the government only covers between 12 and 15 percent of the cost. Governor Gavin Newsom directed $576 million to schools in his first budget, but it is still unclear whether this will help with the funding gap.

Many school districts don’t have budgets for early special education programs for 3 and 4-year-olds and are faced with the necessity to re-prioritize. Research has shown that early intervention is more likely to be beneficial, which is why many parents have switched school districts for special education programs.

Ultimately, the rise in special education enrollment has put financial stress on public schools in California, prompting parents to switch school districts or take their kids out of the public school system. Recent increases in state funding for schools, however, offer a potential solution.



Sanjana is a junior in high school who is passionate about raising awareness about developmental disabilities and neurological disorders. This interest developed from neuroscience research she’s conducted and she wants to share information with the community.

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