Bev Johns testimony before Illinois House Task Force on the future of special education.

-By Bev Johns

photo1In Illinois we are engaged in a great debate over the future education and also of special education.

It is nasty, as Illinois politics often are.

The special education administrators in Illinois (IAASE) are supporting moving away from direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers and instead move to funding based on the number of General education students and provide State funding for Response to Intervention.

I was one of only 3 people invited to present testimony on special education funding (one of the 3 represented private special ed schools).

Here is my testimony.   BHJ


Testimony of Bev Johns, March 21, 2017

Illinois House Education Task Force

Leader Currie, Spokesperson Pritchard, Members of the Task Force –

I am Bev Johns and while I serve as Chair of the Illinois Special Education Coalition, am Immediate Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, and now serve as Chair of Professional Development for the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), this testimony is personal.

As you may know each student in special education has an Individualized Education Plan (an IEP). I have chaired over 8,000 IEP meetings over 20 years for 22 school districts in a special ed coop just west of here.

Then, I did something relatively rare – I started a public school – a public school for children with the most severe behavioral disorders.

It was so successful, that I was asked to write a book about it, and I have now written 18 books mostly about Learning Disabilities (LD) and Behavioral Disorders (BD) but also on Alternatives to Suspension, and on Adaptations for special ed students in General education classrooms.

I am most proud of this book, the first college textbook anywhere in the world on Learning Disabilities, which I became co-author with Janet Lerner on its 10th edition (this is its 13th edition). Many people do not know that the words Learning Disabilities were coined in Illinois, at the University of Illinois.

I now teach special education law and college courses on autism and the preparatory courses to become a special education teacher in Illinois.

What is wrong with the Evidence Based Model as now proposed in Illinois?

In my opinion, it is extreme local control.

EBM consists of 27 elements, some based on evidence, but some not.

And local school districts do NOT have to do any of the 27.

Illinois is saying to local school districts, “Here is the State money, and here are good things to do which will give you good results, but you do not have to actually do those good things.”

Hopefully we all agree that the most critical thing for students with disabilities is a specialized teacher.

House Bill 2808 would eliminate direct and dedicated funding for special education teachers.

Special Education Personnel Reimbursement is now directly tied to teachers – if a school district employs a special ed teacher, it receives $9,000 in State funds each year (in every school district except Chicago).

If it does NOT employ that special ed teacher, it receives nothing.

Money is now directly tied to specialized teaching.

Special Ed Personnel Reimbursement is an efficient, clear, and accountable way to spend State money, and has some equity. $9,000 is a greater percentage of a salary in a poor school district than it is in a rich district.

Giving $9,000 to a local school district is NOT going to cause local schools to go out and hire too many special ed teachers as it is from less than 10 percent to at most 30 percent of a teacher’s salary and benefits.

Under HB 2808, State money for special education would be based on one position for 141 GENERAL education students.

Each of you received an email on Friday detailing how this one position for 141 General education students was recommended for the State of Vermont.

Yes, the EBM for special education for Illinois relies on a study done for Vermont, a very rural State with very little diversity – a State nothing like Illinois.

Vermont calls itself a Full Inclusion State – placing every special education student in the regular, General education classroom, yet even Vermont REJECTED this one for 141 proposal.

Under HB 2808 as now written, a local school district receives the special education money no matter how many, or how few, special education teachers it hires.

What is wrong with this?

Just look at Chicago which has the special education Block Grant.

CPS can and does reduce the number of special education teachers almost every year partly because it loses ZERO state dollars by doing that.

There has been drafted an Amendment to HB 2808 that would restore Special Education Personnel Reimbursement on pages 234 to 237, and adjust the one for 141 on page 332.

A critical part of the special education proposal in HB 2808 is something called Response to Intervention (RTI).

On page 31 of the Evidence Based Model research given to you by Mike Jacoby it states that (quote) “The core features of RTI [are] a critical part of the [Evidence Based] approach…”

The email each of you received on Friday detailed what is wrong with Response to Intervention (RTI). It included a link to the paper The Concept of RTI: Billion Dollar Boondoggle, which detailed the only National study of the actual results of RTI done by the U.S. Department of Education.

That study showed how RTI harmed the academic results of students in RTI. An Illinois study showed the same thing.

An Illinois State Senator told the Rauner Commission that there was “drastic over-identification” for special education in Illinois.

That same unsupported claim was made in Texas, and Texas drastically reduced special education using Response to Intervention, in violation of Federal law.

Texas was forced to stop by an award-winning series late last year in the Houston Chronicle newspaper. The newspaper stated –

(quote) “the most harmful delay tactic, according to employees, has been Response to Intervention, a new set of regular-education teaching techniques in use across the country that have been championed in Houston.

“Federal officials have approved RTI, with one caveat: Schools cannot require teachers to try RTI before requesting a kid be evaluated for special ed.

“That is exactly what has happened in Houston, according to current and former staffers.

“’TI was a huge roadblock,’ said Renee Tappe, who retired in 2015 after 35 years in special education. ‘Every now and again, it would help a kid a little bit, but when you look at the number of kids denied, it’s not even close to being worth it.'” (end quote)

Each of you has received the link to a January, 2017, Better Government Association study that says the data indicate African-American and Hispanic students are UNDER-identified for special education in Chicago compared to White students.

Contrary to all previous research, recent National studies done by Dr. Paul Morgan and other prominent researchers state that due to concentrated poverty, environmental factors including lead poisoning, drug use, the stress of violence, family/guardian situations, premature births, etc. both African-American and Hispanic students Nationwide are UNDER identified, NOT over identified, for special education.

Please do NOT support House Bill 2808 as now written.


At the first hearing of this Task Force, a question was asked about the effects of early childhood education after it was stated that the work of economist James Heckman showed its great effects.

In Heckman’s words “It’s expensive.” He says the costs are about $18,000 a year for the very high quality (the words high quality often get lost in this discussion) programs that produce results – and that is the cost in a low to medium cost community.

The Perry Pre-school program is the most famous program that Heckman studied. He showed a $12 return for every $1 invested, but that was over a lifetime (50 years) of the participants, primarily in better health, lower costs for crime, and increased income.

It is sometimes claimed that the Perry Pre-school program drastically reduced the need for special education.

It did NOT.

Sixty percent of Perry Pre-school students were placed in special education versus 65 percent for students NOT in Perry Pre-school.

One Reply to “Bev Johns testimony before Illinois House Task Force on the future of special education.”

  1. EVERYONE–please call, e-mail, find out when your reps.are home, & visit their offices & tell the to NOT support HB 2808!
    We in Illinois are extremely lucky to have Bev Johns–she does NOT receive a cent to come to S’field, & she often has to fly in from FL. The IAASE, which should be in support of students, parents & educators, can be likened to our elected officials in that it is okay for them to keep their government-subsidized healthcare (in fact, there is an online petition asking that legislators have this automatic perk rescinded, as the Congressional majority is planning to repeal the ACA): it is okay for them (the special education administrators) to receive salaries & benefits from the taxpayers, yet these very same people want to take away monies to support programs paid for by the taxpayers whose children need. Infuriating & unacceptable!

    As many of you readers are retired or active teachers, school social workers, psychologists, therapists, school administrators, you understand what dire effects passage of this bill will have on both sped & gened students.

    &–BTW–Sen. Manar’s claim that kids are “over identified” for sped services is bunk–if anything, they are under identified (& that is why IDEA–originally Public Law 94-142 was passed–in 1974, I believe)–even with the law, & especially with the unevenly administered (different districts do it their own way, throughout the state, w/no oversight & unstructured timelines)Response to Intervention (R.T.I.).

    Finally, as soon as the Witness Slip becomes available, fill one out as an Opponent to this bill.

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