Education Min. to Change Special-needs Budget Policy

The Education Ministry will soon change the policy it uses to assess the amount of aid allocated to special-needs children. Every child in special education will receive aid based on his or her individual level of functioning - a change from the status quo, which refers to the child's official disability as a static reference.

Every child will undergo a reevaluation of his or her behavior and disability, which will then be translated into a budget to cover his or her needs; the budget will be passed on to the student's school. The change is expected to affect about 45,000 families with children in special-education frameworks.

The public committee examining the care for special-needs children, headed by former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, is expected to make the recommendations in a month. The committee was established a year ago by Education Minister Yuli Tamir to find ways to overcome the bureaucratic difficulties faced by parents of special-needs children when dealing with the ministry and the schools. The goal was also to split the budget, estimated at NIS 3 billion, more fairly. Another committee recommendation is to expand youth movement activities to include special-needs children.

According to the new budget policy, each child will undergo special tests drafted by the ministry. The tests will examine the child's functioning in a number of areas: reading and understanding of written material; cognitive skills; listening and concentration skills, knowledge and thought processes; independent functioning including the ability to perform basic skills such as dressing or going to the bathroom independently, mobility level, among other factors. The questionnaires, designed by teachers and principals working in special education, will be filled out by the staff members who care for the children.

The results of the tests will be translated into money for the framework in which the child studies: special education or a regular school. The parents will have the information on the tests and the budget available when they choose a school for the child. There will be a minimum budget for all children, regardless of the test results.

The Education Ministry is now preparing to implement the process over the next few months, with the goal to be full implementation in two years. The changes are expected to draw resistance from parents whose children are found to have a high level of functioning, but until now have received a large amount of funding.

Tamir recently decided to budget NIS 300,000 for informal educational programs for special-needs children. The ministry is in the process of formulating the criteria to receive these funds.