Four years after ratifying Amendment No. 11 to the Special Education Law, the Ministry of Education admits its failure to achieve the main objectives of the amendment: slowing down the increasing rate of the number of special education students and the funds allocated to them from the Ministry of Education’s budget; increasing the number of special needs students who study in frameworks integrated into regular education; reducing special education budgeting inequality between students in integrated programs and students in regular programs; improving the Ministry of Education’s management regarding special needs students and increasing their parents’ satisfaction level.
The Ministry of Education’s failure to achieve the goals of the 11th Amendment to the Special Education Law is not surprising; it was expected. In a document I published on April 4, 2019, I explained why I believe that the chances of the amendment achieving its goals and leading to the implementation of the Dorner Committee’s recommendations are highly slim. Among other things, I wrote there: “As long as the separate programs’ budget is for class […] parents of children with special needs at relatively high functioning levels, who were supposed to send their children to integrated frameworks, will prefer to send them to special education. This will create constant pressure on the Eligibility and Characterization committees to approve the placement of children in the separate programs, a pressure the system will find difficult to sustain.”
Indeed, the expected happened. Within the first year after the amendment was ratified, the “experiment” conducted in the Northern District was not accompanied by an objective external assessment. Therefore, applying lessons from the outcome to future endeavors was impossible. The parents found the tools for analyzing the students and determining the students in needs’ eligibility level for resource assistance unreliable and did not maintain the idea that “the budget is adapted to the child.” The result is continued rapid growth in the special education budget and stability in the scope of students enrolled in integrated programs.
In an article I published in April of this year, I referred to the first steps to implement the 11th Amendment to the Special Education Law. I noted that if the course succeeds, that is, if it leads to a significant increase in the number of special needs students who are integrated into regular programs, it will allow budgetary savings due to reduced teaching, transportation and construction costs. However, I added thus several conditions must be met:
- There will be no notable advantages to the services provided to students with high and medium-high functioning levels in separate programs;
- Clear, logical and rigid definitions of functioning levels will be formulated;
- Members of the Eligibility and Characterization committees will receive reliable tools (the RAMA questionnaire, etc.) for determining the functioning levels of students with special needs, and there will be increased monitoring of the parties designated with authorizing eligibility levels.
In the same article, I reiterated that as long as these conditions are not met, parents and the school boards will exert heavy pressure on the Eligibility and Characterization committees to redefine the students’ functioning levels in order to increase the eligibility for assistance in the integrated programs. Otherwise, the parents will prefer the separate programs. And that is precisely what happened.
Is it still possible to utilize the additional budget given to the special education programs and the extras granted to the Ministry of Education in recent years and implement the Dorner Committee’s recommendations? I assume that the answer is affirmative.
The concept underlying the 11th Amendment to the Special Education Law is correct: students with special needs at high and medium-high functioning levels should be mainly taught in integrated programs, while the separate programs will be dedicated to students at low and medium-low functioning levels. The main idea here is that these programs’ participants need more resources, whether because their challenges are more significant or resolutions to their hardships cannot be found in the regular programs.
However, a number of conditions must be met in order to implement this concept. First, children at lower functioning levels should be able to integrate into regular programs if they or their parents choose to do so. Additionally, they should be provided with all the budgetary, educational, and social assistance they would have received in the separate frameworks. Second, the education system must have reliable diagnostic tools for the differing functioning levels and relies solely on these tools while referring children to various programs. Parents of children with special needs must be convinced that determining the functional level is an impartial measure without hidden motives, such as budget savings. They must know that the children’s well-being is the system’s sole purpose. Finally, it is essential for these changes to be accompanied by a process of interactions with the parents and teachers organizations, local authorities, and professionals in the field and carried out in complete agreement with them.
In light of the aforementioned, in my view, the best path to implementing the Dorner Committee’s recommendations and the 11th Amendment of the Special Education Law is establishing an administrative and educational differentiation between separate and integrated programs. This differentiation will be based on functioning levels and the principle that the budget is adapted to the child. Students with lower functioning levels will study in the separate education system, while students with higher functioning levels will study in the integrated programs. To some extent, this will restrict the parents’ right to determine whether their child will attend a special education school even if they are at a high level of functioning, and vice versa.
All developed countries have separate programs for special needs students, and the difference is in the percentage of students participating in those programs. This distinction indicates that the problem is not an “objective difficulty” in integrating students with special needs and that the extent of integration depends on the ideological approach and determination level of the heads of the organization for implementing the integration policy.
Consistent and gradual implementation of the proposed policy, carried out sensitively yet resolutely, will ultimately lead to an increase in the number of students integrated into regular programs. This way, the social and educational goals of the integration process will be achieved and will, therefore, significantly decrease the growth rate of special education budgets.
Another step – concerning all students – that can significantly assist in the implementation of the Dorner Committee’s recommendations is a sweeping reduction in the number of students per class to a maximum of 25, along with reducing the number of hours taught per class on the one hand, and the widespread operation of schools in the afternoons by the informal education system based on the sudents’ voluntary participation, on the other. Beyond the educational benefits of this course of action, it will greatly facilitate the absorption of special needs students at high and medium levels of functioning in the regular classrooms as well. It is encouraging that the current Minister of Education, Yifat Shasha-Biton, also acknowledged the advantages of this move and included it as a key step that must be taken by the Ministry of Education in order to improve the special education system.
 Since the ratification of the amendment to the law in 2018, the budget has increased by 34%, from 7.9 billion NIS in 2019 to 10.6 billion NIS 10.6 in 2022.
 For a detailed analysis of the feasibility of this proposal, see Nachum Blass, “The Education System in Israel during the Covid-19 Crisis: Three Alternative Frameworks,” Taub Center for Social Policy Research in Israel, 2020.
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