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Children of drug-addicted mothers costing taxpayers more to educate, Kingsport school officials say

Rick Wagner • Dec 26, 2018 at 11:10 AM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport school officials said the effects of mothers taking drugs while pregnant likely will mean continued increased spending to provide special education services to their children affected by neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

The Board of Education at its Dec. 18 meeting voted 3-0 with two absent to approve filling two interim teaching positions: a special education teacher at Johnson Elementary and a teacher at Adams Elementary.

Both are needed because of a larger number of students than projected, said Chief Financial Officer David Frye, who added that the latter teacher is needed because the combined K-3 enrollment exceeds the state maximum. Frye said a budget amendment for both positions will be presented later.

Jacki Wolfe, director of special education, said she expects the system will continue seeing an increase in special education students because of the effects of NAS.

BOE Chariman Carrie Upshaw and Todd Golden lamented the unfunded federal mandate to provide appropriate special education services for the growing number of students needing them, although both said the system would do the right thing regardless.

Wolfe said funding for special education went up in the current budget year, while Susan Lodal said the amount of federal funding for such programs actually has decreased slightly over the past five years or so.

Golden said the general public needs to realize the effects of NAS are not just health impairments and developmental delays, but also the financial cost to local taxpayers to serve that growing population, which he said is increasing due to transfers into the city system by parents moving to Kingsport for special education services and from students who were born in Kingsport.

Wolfe said the functional academic program for grades K-2 at Johnson has grown from 15 in one classroom to 21 and is projected to go to 23. The interim fix will have the existing and interim teacher co-teach the rest of the school year and share an instructional assistant, with the situation to be examined for the 2019-20 academic year.

“I would stay this is a trend that will continue,” Wolfe said.

Tennessee is among the worst states in the nation for NAS and opioid addition. Golden said when he and his wife had their youngest child four years ago, they were the only couple on the floor of a local hospital who didn’t have a drug-addicted newborn. 

The meeting was rescheduled from Dec. 11 because of snow. Vice President Karen Reed-Wright and Eric Hyche were absent.

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