Early intervention for toddlers with disabilities

(Mich.) More infants and toddlers would receive special education services prior to enrolling in school under spending proposed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder for next year’s state budget.

The proposal directs $5 million in state funding to Early On Michigan, an organization that helps identify and provide services to children from birth to three years of age with learning or developmental disabilities.

Currently, only federal special education funding supports the targeted programs. But state leaders have said that additional money to supplement the program could help reduce the number of children who will need special education services when they get to school.

According to a 2015 study by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research found that about 41 percent of students in the U.S. are able to transition out of special education when they receive appropriate services. Studies show that students with disabilities educated in traditional classroom settings are more likely than their peers in special education classes to graduate high school, enroll in college and gain employment, among other long-term successes.

But there has been increasing focus on how schools are preparing early learners prior to entering kindergarten, as research also shows that about a third of infants and toddlers who receive early intervention do not require special education services when they reach preschool.

A report released last year by Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s office found a $700 million gap between the cost of current services and existing special education funding streams. In addition to calling on lawmakers to provide financial incentives for pre-K and K-12 schools to implement best practices in special education services, and increase spending in other areas, Calley also asked legislators to invest in expanding Early On services.

The state receives more than $12 million in federal money each year, and Early On provides services for about 19,000 young children who need mild special education services related to matters such as hearing impairments or delayed development, or issues caused by underlying medical conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Families of these children also receive support through Early On programming.

The program has proven beneficial for participating families. Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit found that in 2016, 78 percent of infants and toddlers in Early On Michigan substantially increased their rate of growth in key developmental areas by the time they exited the program, typically at age three. And 84 percent of participating families indicated that Early On helped their children develop and learn

Still, less than 3 percent of all infants and toddlers in Michigan receive early intervention services through Early On, state education data shows, while 13 percent of school-age students receive special education services.

According to Early On, roughly 37 percent of the children served each year by the organization do not require later special education services later on–a finding that advocates for the program say could save the state money in the long run.

“In 2012, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan found that 225,000 students statewide were eligible for special education at a cost of $14,397 each, or $3.2 billion total,” according to last year’s report from Calley’s office. “Adequate investment in Michigan’s infants and toddlers with delays and disabilities could result in significant savings for the State of Michigan each year.”

Michigan lawmakers are expected to vote on Snyder’s budget recommendations in June.