Number of the Day: 15.87%

December 3, 2010 | Number of The Day

As educators and politicians debate how to best serve New Jersey’s student population, it’s important to note that 15.87 percent of the students enrolled in public and charter schools in the Garden State are classified as needing special education services. Under federal law, the state is required to provide for them.

In 2009, 214,005 children between the ages of 3 and 21 were classified in 13 categories of disability. Of these children, 16,423 are under the age of six.

The largest category — 81,018 or 6 percent of all public schoolchildren — is in the area of “specific learning disabilities,” which means children that have been diagnosed with a disorder in processing, understanding or using language, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury and dyslexia.

Speech and language impairment is the next largest group, with 40,696 or 3 percent of children. Autism has been diagnosed in 11,752 or 0.87 percent of children. About 21,000 have multiple disabilities and 10,938 have been diagnosed as disabled in preschool. Children diagnosed with blindness, visual impairment, deafness, hearing impaired, mental retardation, traumatically brain injured and orthopedically impaired total less than 0.7 percent of children with special needs.

Nearly half (47.8 percent) of those classified between the ages of 6 and 21 have more than 80 percent of their classes with the general student population. Another 44.3 percent have at least some classes with the general population.