Prince William County schools have too many students with slight to moderate learning problems in its mainstream classrooms because the county has not designated them as learning disabled or established programs to help them, a Board of Education advisory committee has concluded.
The 12-member standing Special Education Advisory Committee said such students, many of them foreign born or economically disadvantaged, cannot function in a normal classroom situation. It did not estimate how many students in Prince William have this type of learning problems.
As a result, the panel recommended that the county school board start a new special education program.
The committee also advised the board to keep better records of special education graduates, increase the number of special education students in vocational training classes and set up training programs to help teachers identify students with learning disabilities.
Prince William school Superintendent Richard W. Johnson said the school board will study the recommendations.
The county school system has 35,200 students. It spends $7.4 million, or roughly 8.2 percent of its $90 million operating budget, on the 3,544 students enrolled in special education programs or classes. Johnson said it was too early to say if the school system would be able to finance the programs recommended by the advisory group.
"The whole school budget is tight," he said. But he added that "special education is important to the board."
Neighboring Fairfax County spends about 10.3 percent--$46.2 million--of its $449.5 million school operating budget on special education.
William Mastbrook, chairman of the Prince William advisory committee and a retired Fairfax County school teacher, said that, overall, the committee was impressed with the quality of the Prince William special education program.
"I always thought the farther you got from the District line, the less quality you were likely to find," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised at the commitment the county has made to special education students."
However, Mastbrook said the committee was concerned with the quality of vocational training special education students receive. He said few special education students are enrolled in vocational training classes and the committee was surprised that few records are kept on special education graduates.