8. Paying for inaction

School budgets for children with special needs are increasing across Canada, yet experts and educators still paint a bleak picture of special education.49, 50 An Ontario survey shows almost 17 percent of elementary students and 19 percent of secondary students received some form of special education support in 2010—up from 11 percent and 14 percent respectively in 2001—yet many more go without help. Twenty-three percent of elementary schools and 21 percent of secondary schools identify students who are not receiving support.51 The largest increase is in the number of children suffering from behavioural challenges including aggression, Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.52

Even with expensive interventions by schools, it is often too late to change the trajectory for the numbers of 5-year-olds who are ill-prepared for kindergarten. Many will not graduate high school; one in five Canadians do not. An analysis by the Canadian Council on Learning pegs the annual public cost of one early school leaver at $7,515 annually, a figure derived from a combination of lost tax revenue and increased spending on unemployment insurance and social assistance, and increased costs to the criminal justice system. The cost to the individual is even higher, at $11,589 in diminished health and income. Annually, the public costs for a cohort of early school leavers total $2.62 billion. Costs are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars when aggregated over the expected lifetimes of each cohort of dropouts across Canada.53

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