Special Education: The Real Costs of Low Birth Weight

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

sleeping newborn

We’ll start with the facts, from a study performed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Stephen Chaikind, Hope Corman, issued in 1990. Although this report is somewhat elderly, it was the first to really quantify the costs to special education of the phenomenon known as LBW, low birth weight.

“Children who weighed less than 2500 grams at birth are almost fifty percent more likely to be enrolled in any type of special education than children who were of normal weight at birth. Since previous studies have found the incremental cost, of special education (1989-1990) to be $4,350 per student, this results in an incremental cost; to special education of $370.8 million (1989-1990) per year due to low birth weight, holding other characteristics constant.”

With new medical advances saving children who are severely low birth weight, we can only estimate that costs have increased over time.

In the 1950’s the March of Dimes (MOD) was actively engaged in fund raising to find a cure for the devastating effects of poliomyelitis. The site of moms knocking on doors up and down streets, collecting funds for this disease, was ubiquitous and a testimony to the power of the small donation. The March of Dimes was so effective in their outreach that a cure for polio was found in 1952 with the release of an injectable vaccine discovered by Jonas Salk and then made more widely available in 1955. Children all over the country (and the world) lined up in schools for their “polio shots”.

Diseases like polio, caused by a virus, will come and go. In 2013 an outbreak was discovered in Syria showing how adaptable a pathogen can be. Vaccines now are commonplace and we are grateful for them. To perpetuate the March of Dimes organization, a shift in focus was needed. Birth defects were identified as an area that needed more study, and the MOD was uniquely situated to find funds for research. It was quickly determined that low birth weight was the cause of many birth defects and has great impact on intellectual development in children.

The causes of low birth weight are complex, but in summary, it is caused by inadequate diet and late access to prenatal care. Viruses will come and go, but poverty and ignorance is here to stay. The younger the mother, the more likely her baby will be born at a low birth weight. Education is a big part of the MOD organization’s service focus, and many birth defects have been eliminated as environmental factors with the finding of their geneses. Many will remember the thalidomide tragedy. Pregnant women took a tranquilizer for stress called thalidomide. Many of their babies were born with horrific defects, missing and misshapen limbs.

Each year in many communities, the MOD conducts a walkathon to raise funds for the prevention of birth defects. Leading up to the walk, volunteers go into schools to provide students and teachers with information about the causes of birth defects. School clinics and nurses are given training and literature to reach their students in an effort to prevent low birth weight and to impress on young minds the necessity for good nutrition and prenatal care during pregnancy. Doctors are given information to help them refer young mothers for support to be sure they eat properly and attend all their prenatal doctor visits.

Meanwhile, in schools and special education classrooms, special educators work diligently with students who might have died at birth in earlier years. These children present us now with a host of educational challenges at great cost to governments, local, state, and federal.

Societal changes like legalization of abortion, reorganization of welfare regulations and so on, will change the landscape for this issue. In general, however, the issues surrounding low birth weight will continue to challenge families, teachers, and leaders alike.

So the next time you see a flyer or a poster announcing the annual March of Dimes walkathon, you might seriously consider signing up. You’ll have fun, get some exercise and fresh air, meet new people, and raise money for a terrific cause.

Learn more about the March of Dimes in your community.

Please comment on this blog, we love hearing from you.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Standard Charitable Foundation

Description:  At The Standard, caring about people is a core value reflected in our commitment to the communities across the United States where our employees live and work. We provide corporate philanthropic support to nonprofit organizations working in the following four areas: Healthy Communities, Disability and Empowerment, Cultural Development, and Education and Advancement.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Service, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility:  Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  5/1/2014

Average Amount:  $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Address: Public Affairs P12B 1100 SW 6th Ave Portland OR 97204

Telephone: 971-321-3162

Website:  Standard Charitable Foundation

Availability:  All States