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SDPB Radio Coverage of the South Dakota Legislature. See all coverage and find links to audio and video streams live from the Capitol at www.sdpb.org/statehouse

Bill Changes State's Definition Of Autism

The state’s Department of Education wants lawmakers to expand one of its disability levels. House Bill 1031 revises the definition of autism. The move would add related disabilities to that level of special education funding.

State funding for students with disabilities differs from general state aid to education. Instead of one flat rate, South Dakota distributes special ed money on a sliding scale. Districts that support students with more serious disabilities receive a higher dollar amount in state funding.

Secretary Melody Schopp says the state is averaging about the same number of students in special education each year, but there’s a slight uptick.

"Our special education teachers and staff are doing a better job of recognizing and identifying students with autism. So you’ll see in Level 4, that if you look back to 2008, that those numbers of any area, if we did a percentage, you would see that those numbers have increased. So that is the one area that we’re giving additional supports in particular and training out in the districts," Schopp says.

House Bill 1031 changes state statute to include autism spectrum disorders, which range from less significant impairment to severe.

The Department of Education uses six levels of disability to provide funding. Level 1 includes minor disabilities; Level 6 is multiple disabilities with prolonged assistance.

Read and follow House Bill 1031 online.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).