Sun Newspaper Investigates Incorrectly
A big article in the Sunday Sunpaper led with the headline, “Special Ed costs add to budget”. There was a good bit of misinformation in the article. Plus, the article is strongly slanted towards the notion that providing an appropriate education for kids with special needs is somehow not worth the additional cost.
Let’s start at the beginning. The proposed budget allocates about $278 million for meeting the needs of 12,000 students, roughly 15% of the system's budget. Special education costs were cited as one of the reasons for the $130 million deficit last year. No mention was made of the lucrative contract negotiated by the former superintendent that escalated teachers' salaries about the $100,000 mark. The district’s chief of staff said that the amount does not necessarily reflect inefficiencies even though it is much greater than similar cities and other local systems.
The City’s executive director of special education indicated that one way to drive down the costs of special education services is to not over-identify students who require special education. As a special educator, I am offended that the executive director did not cite early identification and intervention as the best way to drive down long-term costs and still serve children’s needs.
The article further states that federal (and state) law requires that students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. That is NOT what the law requires. Rather it requires that children with special needs be educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate to meet their educational needs.
The article notes that when no public program can meet a student’s needs the city is required to purchase a non-public program. For next year, the system has budgeted $33.5 million for that purpose. The system brags that is the lowest level in five years.
Maybe they should not be bragging. The Harbour School located in Baltimore County is projecting a tuition rate for the 18-19 school year of $39,490. That sounds like a lot of money and it is. BUT, first of all that includes all OT, clinical and speech service that a child needs. Baltimore City currently spends $15,483 for its children with no special needs. The new budget is spending an average of $23,166 per child with special needs. So why is the non-public placement the better deal? Even without looking at the quality of service provided, Maryland will reimburse Baltimore City approximately 50% of its non-public cost. That reimbursement would bring the cost of The Harbour School to Baltimore City down to $19,725 not too much more than the cost of educating a plain student. And most people agree that The Harbour School delivers a top-notch program.
Take away all of the financial matters. What is most offensive about this article is the implication that somehow educating children with special needs is not worth the additional cost. It costs more to educate a high school student than it does to educate an elementary student, but no one is suggesting we are "over identifying" the number of students we allow to go to high school.
Making sure children with disabilities receive an appropriate education program to meet their needs is cost-effective in the long run. It is also the right thing to do and IT’S THE LAW.