Washington News Bureau

Students with disabilities becoming larger part of public school enrollment

WASHINGTON — The number of students with disabilities within public schools in rising across the country but it comes as many districts are also struggling to hire special education teachers.

There were 7.3 million students with disabilities in K-12 classrooms during the 2021-2022 school year, which is the most recent federal data available.

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According to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center, these students represented about 15% of national public school enrollment that year.

“States with the largest percentage of students in public education are New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Massachusetts,” said Katherine Schaeffer, research analyst at Pew Research Center. “These students account for about 20% of students in public schools in those states.”


But many school districts continue to struggle with hiring special education professionals. This comes as the National Education Association reports that teacher pay hasn’t kept up with rising inflation.

Schaeffer said special education teachers have been some of the hardest vacancies to fill.

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“About 40% of the schools who had a special education vacancy that year, reported that they either had a very difficult time filling the position or just weren’t able to,” said Schaeffer.

The report also shows that students receiving special education services dropped slightly during the pandemic.

That was the first decline in a decade.