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Unsustainable cost of Special-Ed

Original post made by Jack Hickey, Woodside: Emerald Hills, on Dec 19, 2011

Editor, Sue Lempert “A sad day for everyone” writes about a 7-year-old boy, out of control in a special education class at George Hall Elementary School, who was subdued by a San Mateo police officer with pepper spray. Web Link sad day for everyone&id=224889

The real story which should outrage taxpayers lies in the public policy which created this situation.

Sue states that "Public schools, according to federal law, must provide an equal and appropriate education for each child, no matter what the physical, social or mental disability." She then says "Four years ago, I reported that the cost to educate a non-special education student in the San Mateo Union High School District was $9,000 per year. But the cost for some special ed students ran as high as $110,000 a year."

I have empathy for parents of children with anxiety disorder, learning disability, etc. However, I suggest that equal funding per student should be public policy. Anything beyond that is charity, and not the proper role of government. If the schools can not accommodate these special children with normal funding, they should either:

1. Pay the family the amount expended for mainlined students, or;
2. Require the family to provide the added funding to accommodate their children in the system.

Jack Hickey

Comments (8)

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm

A tough call, Jack.

Think about spending $100,000 on a SINGLE student. That same money could pay a couple of extra teachers, reduce class size and benefit all students. Instead, in the name of compassion, we spend an inordinate amount of money on a single student.

Yes, if I had a special needs child, I would want the school to spare no expense. But that's not how we run a school district (and if it were, why not spare no expense on EVERY child?).

While I understand the call for compassion and to fund every special need of every special needs child, it is clearly at the expense of the other 99% of students... and it will ultimately bankrupt us. This is crazy.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Neither of you apparently has any direct experience with how public schools handle this. There is a wide spectrum of disabilities, ranging from mild to severe, and a wide range of accommodations to go with them. My experience, with a child who needed just a little bit of extra help, is that the schools just go through the motions of accommodation and don't really do anything. I met with teachers and administrators over and over to come up with 501 plans, we all agreed to them, and the teachers then ignored them. I can only imagine that they treat other students the same, so your worries are all for nothing. Those who fit into the mold will get taught, the others get left behind. It is really that simple.

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 22, 2011 at 9:16 am

Donald, please explain your 501 plans. Is this a non-profit, charitable solution to the problem? If so, bravo for your efforts.
My concern is regarding the categorical funding and general fund allocations for special ed students. See: Web Link
"In 2006–07, California schools spent $9.3 billion on special education, or about 17% of total K–12 general fund expenditures."
Targeted federal, state, and local funds for special education totaled $4.7 billion in 2006–07. These funds help defray the additional costs of educating children with disabilities above the average cost for all children. Districts use revenue from their general fund to meet the difference between total program spending and categorical funding."

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 22, 2011 at 9:29 am

Donald -

You shouldn't assume that others aren't as smart as you.

I am well aware of some of the special needs programs at public schools. I'm not talking about a student performing at the lower margins who needs some additional help. I'm talking about the profoundly challenged students.

It's not that I begrudge their efforts and it's not that they aren't deserving. My point is that EVERY child is deserving. In this case, the school may be spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single student at the expense of the majority of students.

I'm not sure that is the right thing to do. It's a societal call.

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Woodside High School
on Dec 22, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I believe that Donald is referring to a 504 plan, colloquially a midpoint between no intervention and a full-blown IEP (individual education plan)

The reality is that there are some more cost-effective solutions, but not always - it's always an individual situation. The law does dictate a "free appropriate public education". Web Link but there are better and worse ways to implement ... just as there are ways to game the system inappropriately. It's not as black and white as vouchers for anyone above the average cost per student ... or an open checkbook.

Yes, special education has the power to bankrupt public education if unmanaged. Yes, public education is more than a utilitarian triage of the greatest good for the greatest number. Yes, there will be some extreme cases, like healthcare, where overspending is a misuse of public resources. The balancing art is good management.

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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Dec 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Observer, your reference to vouchers strikes a chord. However, my idea of vouchers which I presented in 1979/80 envisioned "education vouchers" Web Link as opposed to "school vouchers" or vouchers to supplement the expense of educating those with learning disorders or seriously limited capacity. My goal was to empower parents to choose alternative venues for educating their children. I see the government schooling system as schools of last resort.

I can visualize privately funded non-profit organizations addressing the needs of the children with special needs. And, parents of these children are the logical ones to volunteer with such organizations. Perhaps the stipend I suggested at the outset would allow them to become more involved. Government needs to get out of the way. And, get out of the charity business.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2011 at 7:13 am

What we have now is a cruel charade, with schools misleading parents to believe that they can educate everyone while knowing that they cannot. Part of the problem is where to draw the line, and who decides on which side of the line children fall. At the moment you can get a 504 (sorry about the typo above) plan, but only if the student has officially been determined to need one. Who makes the decision? The school, unless the parents have the means to pay for their own assessment. The school has no motivation to find that little Johnny needs more help, so they are likely to just conclude that he is a bit slow and let him fail. In fact, they cannot intervene to help a student who is not failing! Even if you have a bright student who is doing OK but not up to his/her potential they cannot do anything. The student must fail completely first. Clearly there needs to be some outside independent means for deciding who gets any special treatment, and you can be sure there will be lots of complaints and lawsuits over those who are denied it.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

This is related, sort of.

A few years ago, I heard someone suggest that we should "qualify" children who enter public schools. They went on to say that certain skills should be REQUIRED for public school, for instance, knowing the alphabet, understanding English, perhaps some basic arithmetic (depending on grade). If the child does not have these basic skills that are necessary for their grade level, we should divert them to a program outside the school - to bring them up to speed.

That would greatly reduce the amount of time that our teachers currently spend remediating these issues at the expense of other students.

We qualify students everywhere else, why not when they enter public schools?

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