Special ed deficit challenges Iowa schools

Carson Lavalley, 10, practices his daily tasks at Liberty Elementary Friday/KTVO

Iowa school districts are facing a special education deficit.

KTVO learned this month, just how much an Ottumwa student is counting on educators to fill the gap.

Carson Lavalley is on his way to middle school. He's 10 now and was diagnosed with autism at 6 years old, and septo-optic dysplasia at three months old. The condition slows brain development, impairing his vision and speech.

Lavalley requires one-on-one lessons with his teachers at Liberty Elementary in Ottumwa.

"The majority of his day is spent with the teachers, with the aides and so they are the main ones to help him learn different tasks," said Lavalley’s mom, Tommie Johns.

Lavalley spends most of his day in what Liberty calls the severe and profound room, It's where students with disabilities go to study when they're not in the regular classroom setting. His teacher, Melissa Hougland said her class size at liberty ranges from five to nine students. Each student gets an aide.

Hougland keeps up with the latest technology and learning strategies several times a year.

"It's fun, to do, and actually each kid is unique, so it's based on an IEP,” Hougland said.

An IEP, which stands for individualized education plan.

In 1990, a federal mandate started with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, legislation that requires school districts to meet the needs identified on a student's IEP.

That need is growing, but Iowa school districts aren't seeing growth in state funding.

It's something educators in Davis County knows all too well.

"We can't continue to expect schools to meet mandated requirements, government mandates, without adequate funding," said Davis County Superintendent Dan Maeder.

About 10 percent of the student population in Davis County requires special education. A couple years ago, that number was 7 percent.

The district's special education deficit last year was more than $470,000

"That's alarming, that's a jump of more than $200,000 from the year before," Maeder said.

Whether the money is there, or not, students like Lavalley depend on educators.

"The most important resource that we have is our teachers, but that is also our most expensive resource," Maeder said.

Hougland told KTVO the Great Prairie Area Education Agency plays a huge role in helping special education students get the tools they need to succeed.

"I think everybody has interest in helping policy makers understand that it really is a service to kids and outcomes for kids that get cut, when funding gets cut, or gets reduced," said Cindy Yelick, Chief Administrator at Great Prairie.

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