Don't blame special ed

Private-school tuition for special-education students burdens New York City public schools, writes Barbara Martinez in the Wall Street Journal. The school district spent $116 million last year on legal costs and tuition for students whose parents successfully argued the public schools weren’t meeting their needs. “That’s more than double the number of just three years ago, and the costs are expected to continue to rise in coming years.”

Don’t blame special ed, responds Jay P. Greene. That $116 million is more of a “rounding error” than a burden. It amounts to about .6% of total spending.

Furthermore, while the city is spending $28,571 on average for 4,060 privately placed special education students, it spends an average of $24,773 on special education students who stay in the public system. The extra expenditure of $3,798 per privately placed student over 4,060 students adds up to $15.4 million, less than .09% of the education budget.

Blaming special ed “distracts people from the true and large areas of waste burdening the school system,” Greene writes.

Washington, D.C. schools have handled special education so poorly that 25 percent of disabled students attend a private school at district expense. The annual bill is $283 million, reports the Washington Post. Mayor Adrian Fenty wants to bring most of the students — and the funding — back to public schools, but it’s proving very hard to persuade parents that “reintegration” is in their children’s best interests.

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  1. Joanne–as I posted over at Jay’s blog–

    Before you get too excited about the degree of disability, one factor (from someone with boots on the ground) is that misinformed administrators often look at the cost of in-district programs and see it as way too high, when in reality keeping these students in-district instead of sending them out for private placement frequently costs less–and sets the groundwork for an easier transition back into the general education population. Often it isn’t the degree of disability which can be a factor, but simply the lack of in-district facilities. When the bean counters look at the cost of an in-district program, they only look at the adult/student ratio, not the cost of the in-district program vis-a-vis the cost of an outside placement. Often, the least restrictive environment *is* an in-district program–which may not exist.

  2. Matthew Ladner says:

    DC needs to implement a McKay Scholarship type program sooooo badly. No lawsuit necessary, no giant judgements, no Cadillac placements, if you are unhappy, you can leave with your (supposedly inadequate) funding.

    The district can keep the money they divert from general ed to special ed back in general ed, or spend more per pupil in special ed. Everyone wins but the attorneys.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    “Mayor Adrian Fenty wants to bring most of the students — and the funding — back to public schools, but it’s proving very hard to persuade parents that “reintegration” is in their children’s best interests.”

    Because it isn’t.

  4. prometheus says:

    There is a certain subset of the student population that cannot be safely or effectively reintegrated. Doing so is not in their best interests, nor is it in the best interests of the other students and staff. There needs to remain alternative programming for these students.

  5. But it shouldn’t be on the public dime. That’s the real issue–public school funds should be spent on students within a defined level of deviation from the mean. If your kid doesn’t fall into that range, then public school isn’t an option. The feds can fund that differently.


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