According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average per pupil expenditure in U.S. schools today is just over $10,000. The Center for Special Education Finance calculates that for students with disabilities, the cost is 1.9 times more expensive. Even with some state and federal aid, this equates to, on average, nearly $19,000 a year to educate each student with special needs — a significant financial responsibility for school districts especially in these times of severe budget cuts.
However, innovative districts such as Westfield-Washington Schools in central Indiana and St. Mary Parish Public Schools in Louisiana have found a way to reduce special education expenses by effectively addressing foundational reading and learning issues, thereby reducing unnecessary referrals to special education.
In 2006, both school districts implemented a brain fitness program called Fast ForWord®. The software program consists of intensive, adaptive exercises that build brain fitness in the areas of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing — cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success. Fast ForWord supports special education students, as well as those working at or above grade level, by improving their ability to learn and retain knowledge. This results in increased reading proficiency, improved comprehension of other subject areas, increased self-confidence, and reduced costs for intervention services.
Westfield-Washington SchoolsIn Westfield-Washington Schools, located just north of Indianapolis, schools have realized savings in the reduction of inaccurate referrals to special education. Through the use of the Fast ForWord program, schools have prevented the misidentification of struggling students as special needs students, so doctors and psychologists are conducting fewer unnecessary, and expensive, evaluative tests. The district has found the Fast ForWord program to be cost-effective in other ways as well. For example, in previous years, schools implemented a one-on-one tutoring program to help struggling readers, but the program was so labor-intensive they could serve only a fraction of the pupils who needed intervention. In contrast, using the Fast ForWord software, the district can easily provide intervention to all students who need it. The district also includes the Fast ForWord program as an integral part of Tier I and Tier 2 interventions in its Response to Intervention (RtI) process.