Monday, June 05, 2006

A close look at special education

Dan Keating and V. Dion Haynes of the Washington Post have a great, in-depth look at how DCPS manages (or, more truthfully, doesn't manage) its special education program. From it, you will get a good sense of just exactly why the District's school system is so dysfuntional

Lack of basic financial controls? Check.
City and school officials said they could not fully account for the growth in the tuition spending, in part because their record-keeping is deficient.

"That's the thing that's so frustrating with special education: We've accepted dysfunctionality as a way of being," said school board Vice President Carolyn N. Graham, who recently chaired a board committee that studied special education. "We don't know how much we've paid. We don't know what we paid for."

D.C. school officials have promised repeatedly over the past decade to improve and expand public school programs for disabled students, which would cut the number of children placed in the expensive private facilities. But many administrators and teachers throughout the system say they fear that the spending trends are becoming self-perpetuating: As the tuition payments grow, there is less and less money to hire the teachers, therapists, social workers and other specialists needed to make the public programs more acceptable to parents and hearing officers hired by the school system.
Penny wise, pound foolish? Check.
That pattern has created some glaring inefficiencies in spending. At Lafayette Elementary School in Northwest Washington, for example, Principal Gail Lynn Main said 12 to 15 students have been sent to private academies over the past three years since she lost one of her two special education teachers during systemwide budget cuts and could no longer meet the students' needs. Based on the average tuition bill, the school system could have avoided spending $600,000 to $750,000 a year if it had given her the $42,000 she needed to hire the extra teacher.
Loss of contol to the courts? Check.
The District has been under federal court supervision for a decade for violating the law that gives disabled children the right to a free and appropriate education. One class-action lawsuit involves the school system's failure to provide children with timely assessments, instructional plans and other educational services, and a second suit covers problems with bus transportation and timely payment of tuition bills.
(This is precicely the reason why I believe the DC Council's proposed legislation to guaranteeing DC residents free, high-quality education is a bad idea)

Officials with their heads apparently buried in the sand? Check.
"They were so overbudget that they took it from whatever budget was available," said school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who, like other board members, said she had been unaware of the transfers. "It's the biggest scam in America."
No, the biggest scam would be how Cooper Caftritz and the rest of the Board of Education continue to be re-elected. Your acknowledgement that you and your fellow board members were unaware of the transfers is pretty much an admission that you have failed at your job, which is to provide leadership and oversight to the public school system.

Read the whole, depressing thing.

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