Special-ed budget changes worry committee members

The Knesset Education Committee expressed concern Tuesday that a new budget plan in the Education Ministry would mean ending the special educational track set aside for children with learning disabilities, increasing dropout rates or forcing them into specialized schools. The committee held a hearing to discuss the cancellation of the so-called "07 track," an educational arrangement for children diagnosed as hyperactive. The track is at risk due to a new funding plan, through which schools nationwide will be given a global budget for special-needs students, regardless of the number of students in the program. Until now, each student has received an individual needs assessment, and budgets have been granted accordingly. This has enabled schools to provide needs-based mainstreaming for each student, including extra tutorial help so they can keep up with their classmates. "Because schools will now work on the basis of a general budget, what will actually happen is that these children will be transferred to special classes or the schools will simply find ways not to accept such students," warned committee chairman Michael Melchior (Labor). "The Education Ministry has created a situation in which there is no interest in keeping students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and I am concerned that as a result of their 'good intentions' not to send the children to assessment hearings, a serious situation will be created in which children will drop out, and those who don't will not be given the appropriate care." But Smadar Malihi, the Education Ministry's national supervisor for special education, denied that the 07 track was being canceled. "This is a new budget that all regular schools will receive. Until now, students were referred to assessment committees and there was over-referral. Sometimes the child wouldn't need such a hearing, but in order to receive the budget, they were forced to anyway," explained Malihi. "Before, children were referred to assessment committees because the school wanted the extra funds. It is the right of the child who insists on being integrated into a regular class to do so, and there will be a global budget for each school in order to make this happen." Psychologist Rut Yanovski, who specializes in working with learning-disabled children, pushed aside Malihi's claims that the change in budgeting would serve the interests of pupils with ADHD. "What will end up happening is segregation," she argued. "The needs-assessment system costs parents a lot of money, and today there is now an incentive for schools to prevent these children from being accepted to schools." Committee members concluded that they were "not convinced" that the new budgetary instructions for institutions were clear enough, nor were they convinced that the new system would operate as intended. Rather, they felt it would increase dropout rates.