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Special Education Enrollment Hits All-Time High

Special Education Enrollment Hits All-Time High

The number of students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in the nation’s schools is on the rise yet again. (Ting Shen/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)

There are a record number of students with disabilities in the nation’s schools.

New data shows that there were 7.5 million children ages 3 to 21 served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act during the 2022-2023 school year, accounting for 15% of all students. That’s a jump from 7.3 million the year prior and represents the highest number ever.

The figures come from an annual report known as the “Condition of Education,” which was released recently by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. The document provides a rundown of data on education in America.

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Special education enrollment dipped slightly between the 2019–2020 and 2020–2021 school years, but grew through the pandemic, the report indicated.

By comparison, there were just 6.4 million students with disabilities during the 2012–2013 year when 13% of schoolchildren were served under IDEA.

Even with the growth, the report notes that special education enrollment varies significantly across the states. At the high end, 21% of students have individualized education programs, or IEPs, in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. Meanwhile, just 12% of students in Idaho and Hawaii receive IDEA services. Rates in other states fall somewhere in between.

During the 2022-2023 school year, nearly a third of students in special education had specific learning disabilities, accounting for the largest proportion. Other common diagnostic categories included speech or language impairments, other health impairments and 13% had autism, the report found.

All but 5% of students with disabilities were served in regular schools in 2022-2023 and more than two-thirds spent at least 80% of their time in general classes, according to the data. Of those who exited the school system, 74% graduated with a regular high school diploma.

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