The number of California kids needing special education programs is nearing 700,000 or 10 percent of total enrollment -- and rising. They're more expensive to teach because additional aides or specialists are hired. The state spends about $9 billion on special education while it credentials 4,000 to 5,000 special ed teachers a year.
That's not enough to meet the demand.
"We think we're preparing about half the numbers of special education teachers that the state might actually need. And so, it's an issue we need to attend to," said Mary Vixie Sandy with the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
To close the gap, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing issues about 2,500 interim documents, or emergency permits, to allow some to temporarily teach special needs students. Another 2,000 or so are mis-assigned in a special ed setting.
"I spent a lot of time battling the schools," said Ron Mesna, the father of a special needs child. He's upset there haven't been enough special ed teachers qualified to deal with his son. "Not enough. They need more one-on-one, more smaller groups. Mainstreaming in part of a classroom is great, but they need more and the teachers have to learn how they learn. Every one of them is different."
In recent years with budget cutbacks, it's been challenging to meet the needs of special ed students, but the main problem has been attracting people to the job. Special ed teachers are not paid more and have to attain special credentials on top of the ones they need to teach a regular classroom.
The Special Education Local Plan Area offices hope things improve now that Gov. Brown is giving districts more flexibility in how they spend their money.
"Maybe things will loosen up a little bit and we'll have the ability to look at salaries, provide more stipends, look at some training opportunities, helping them get that authorization, said Judith Holsinger with Special Education Local Plan Area.
The shortage could actually deepen. Lawmakers might put more requirements on new special ed teachers as recommended by a blue ribbon task force.