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Special Education - CalEdFacts

This content is part of California Department of Education's information and media guide about education in the State of California. For similar information on other topics, visit the full CalEdFacts.

Special education services were provided to 795,047 individuals, newborn through twenty-two years of age, in 2018–19. California provides specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities. This instruction is provided in a variety of settings that allow infants and their families, preschoolers, students, and young adults to be educated with their peers as much as possible; that is, in the least restrictive environment. Special education services are available in a variety of settings, including day-care settings, preschool, regular classrooms, classrooms that emphasize specially designed instruction, the community, and the work environment. The California Department of Education (CDE) works with colleges and universities to deliver staff development and training that ensures that teachers and other service providers are qualified to work with children with disabilities.

The CDE provides state leadership and policy direction for school district programs and services for students who have disabilities. This leadership includes providing families with information on the education of children with disabilities. The CDE works cooperatively with other state agencies to provide everything from family-centered services for infants and preschool children to planned steps for transition from high school to employment and quality adult life. These efforts are supported by evaluation of student outcomes and analysis of current research. The CDE responds to consumer complaints and administers the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for students with disabilities in California.

The disability categories and enrollment breakdown in California for individuals (newborn through twenty-two years of age) who received special education services in 2018–19 are as follows:

  • Autism: 120,095
  • Deaf-blindness: 114
  • Deafness: 3,223
  • Emotional disturbance: 25,233
  • Hard of hearing: 10,657
  • Intellectual disabilities: 43,770
  • Multiple disabilities: 7,308
  • Orthopedic impairment: 9,916
  • Other health impairment: 104,792
  • Specific learning disability: 300,295
  • Speech or language impairment: 164,698
  • Traumatic brain injury: 1,541
  • Visual impairment: 3,405

Advisory Commission on Special Education

An Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) is mandated by both state and federal laws. The ACSE is required to study, assist, and provide recommendations at least annually to the Governor, the State Legislature, the State Board of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction on issues related to the education and unmet needs of individuals with disabilities. There are 15 public members of ACSE, who are appointed as follows: three by the Speaker of the Assembly; three by the Senate Committee on Rules; four by the Governor; and five by the State Board of Education. In addition, ACSE includes two members from the State Legislature: one from the Assembly and one from the Senate.

Selected Projects and Programs

The CDE has many projects and programs to close the achievement gap, including technical assistance with least restrictive environments (Supporting Inclusive Practices External link opens in new window or tab.), support for family engagement (Seeds of Partnership External link opens in new window or tab.), support for birth to preschool assessments (Desired Results Access Project External link opens in new window or tab.), technical assistance for students with low-incidence disabilities (visual and orthopedic disabilities), and focused monitoring projects. These projects provide technical services, research, training, conferences, and other services to many special education students.

The CDE also certifies more than a thousand nonpublic schools and agencies that provide special education services to students with disabilities. For more information regarding nonpublic schools and agencies, email or 916-327-0141.

Questions: Special Education Division | | 916-445-4613 
Last Reviewed: Friday, June 25, 2021
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