Did you know that a child who is diagnosed with things like ADD can get special privileges in school like extra study guides, extended time on tests, and other perks, but that the student’s school transcripts and diplomas will not reflect that fact? Did you know that schools are paid more for having these students under their care? For instance, New York State spends an average of $14,413 per year more to educate a disabled student than a regular-enrollment student. 

There are students who actually need these things, but as you can imagine, there are schools and parents that will take advantage of this system. The benefit to the school is increased funding, and the benefit to the student is a slanted playing field.

There are even schools that children attend that allow them to ride horses as a part of their “therapy.” A large number of disabled students and their clever parents, critics allege, have managed to get public schools to pay for attendance at expensive private schools like the one just mentioned. The San Francisco Chronicle describes the case of a student with learning disabilities and an anxiety disorder whose parents “enrolled him in a $30,000-a-year prep school in Maine—then sent the bill to their local public school district.”

In the last three decades, special-education programs in the United States have grown at a tremendous pace. Much of this growth reflects a growing incidence of students diagnosed with the mildest form of learning disability, called a Specific Learning Disability (SLD), and thus the hardest to distinguish from an ordinary cognitive deficit. Between 1977 and 2006, the proportion of public school students diagnosed with SLD trebled, from 1.8 percent to 5.6 percent. By the end of that period, 40.7 percent of all students enrolled in special education had been identified as having an SLD. A limited but growing body of research suggests that financial and other incentives may be responsible for a portion of these increases.

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