Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Special Education still stinks"

While not quite as blunt as the title, this is pretty much the conclusion of the court appointed special master in a new report to the court that oversees the District's special education system.
District of Columbia officials have fumbled the latest attempt at reforming the city’s troubled special education system, putting city taxpayers at risk of waste and fraud, a court-appointed watchdog has charged. The abysmal effort” and “lack of focus” of top education officials exposes the District to corrupt private school operators and further litigation, special master Elise T. Baach told U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in a report dated Monday.

The report was the first issued since Mayor Adrian Fenty took over the city’s school system in June. It had critical words for new Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and State Superintendent Deborah Gist.

Neither Gist nor Rhee responded to requests for comment.

Baach was appointed by Friedman to monitor D.C.’s special education system after a group of students sued, alleging the city — which was sending them to private schools at public expense — was jeopardizing their education by not paying the bills on time, if at all.

Baach is required to file regular reports on the District’s progress at fixing the system. In her most recent filing, Baach asked the judge to consider holding the District in contempt for not providing information on how well, and how quickly, the city is paying its bills.

The report also says the District bungled efforts to set fixed costs for the outside schools that take in more than 2,100 children who can’t be accommodated in the public schools. The program is projected to cost at least $137 million next year.

Baach said in her report Monday that D.C.’s failure to fix the rates leaves the District open to unscrupulous vendors.

“Programs that may be charging excessive rates are free to do so,” Baach wrote.

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