BATON ROUGE, LA. (NBC33) —
Louisiana is one of eight states selected to benefit from a federal grant designed to improve outcomes for students with special needs through human capital initiatives. The state will receive $1.2 million each year over the course of the five-year grant period, according to an announcement made by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) today.
The grant, administered through the Special Education State Personnel Development Grants Program, provides funds to assist states in reforming and improving their systems for educating children with disabilities. The other seven states receiving grants are Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Wyoming. Districts statewide are eligible to receive funding, but will be required to meet specific criteria.
Louisiana's grant application calls for the funding to be targeted to provide aid to high-need districts through initiatives that support the recruitment and retention of highly qualified special education teachers; professional development that connects special needs instruction to the national Common Core State Standards; collaborative initiatives that link regular education and special education teachers; and training on the utilization of positive behavior interventions.
"High-quality instruction in special education is essential to providing our must vulnerable students with a world-class education that allows them to thrive not only in their academic pursuits, but beyond," Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said. "While the Department has implemented a number of new measures to enhance our special education services, this grant will be a valuable tool to supplement our current strategies."
With the exception of those enrolled in Gifted and Talented programs, approximately 86,000, or 12 percent, of Louisiana's student population receives special education services. And over the last several years, Louisiana students with special needs have made significant academic progress.
Based on the percentage of students performing at grade level, an analysis of state testing in spring 2011 reveals Louisiana has reduced the performance gap between students with special needs and their peers by ten points between 2001 and 2011. There have also been gains in graduation rates. In 2004-2005, the state reported 17.4 percent of students with disabilities exited with a high school diploma. In 2010, that percentage rose to 21.9 percent, indicating a gain of 4.5 percentage points in five years.
Still, education officials said, we need to do better.
"We will not be satisfied until every one of our students is performing at grade level or better," Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue said. "Our recent progress and our new and enriched programs and initiatives, including this grant, will help Louisiana meet this objective."
For more on the Special Education State Personnel Development Grants Program, please click here .