SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota is above the national average in the percentage of students enrolled in special education, the Department of Education said last week.

Linda Turner, the director of special education for the DOE, told the joint committee on appropriations at a Jan. 26 meeting that 19% of the state’s students were enrolled in special education.

The national average is 15%. Although South Dakota’s percentage is higher than the national average, it is lower than some of the highest percentages such as 22% and 23%, Turner said.

Kids Count Data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation had the percentage at 16% (15.8%) for the 2020-2021 school year. The percentage was 14% in 2013-2014.

Pew Trust said in 2012 that South Dakota’s percentage was 14.9%.

The joint committee discussed the percentage as it discussed the request for increased funding in special education.

“Every year we see the need increasing,” committee member Republican Rep. Chris Karr said.

The state had 22,362 students in special education during the last school year. For Fiscal Year 2024, 22,935 students are projected to be in special education, according to DOE data presented on Jan. 26.

The state’s total share would increase from about $83 million to $88 million. DOE officials said the department is not requesting additional money this year because it has the ability to fund the state’s share.

DOE officials said that the state projects a level of support and when it is not used, it goes back to the state.

DOE secretary Joe Graves said that for many years the percentage of special education students did not change. But, “there’s definitely been an increase,” he said.

South Dakota would not be alone in any increases in percentages.

In the past decade, the number of students with disabilities has grown from 6.4 million, or 13 percent of all students in 2010-11, to almost 7.2 million, or 14.5 percent in 2020-21, according to Education Week.

Committee co-chairwoman Republican Sen. Jean Hunhoff asked about diagnosis of autism.

Turner said the diagnosis for students on the autism spectrum changed several years ago. “We knew there would be an increase (in diagnosis of students),” Turner said.

Students on the autism spectrum are in the Level 4 classification. The number in FY2023 was 1,770 and in FY2024 it will be 1,953.

Some theories on the overall increase include environmental impacts or organic impacts, Graves said. “Others would say that parents are more proactive about requesting testing and that staff is proactive about testing,” Graves said.

Graves said he believes parents are more proactive in requesting tests for their child.