Monday, October 21, 2013

Philadelphia’s Cost/Benefit Analysis in Providing Special Education Services

Philadelphia’s school budget crisis means nearly every area is understaffed, as Derek noted last week, and services to the city’s 20,000 special education students have not been exempt. (The Philadelphia school district lost 3,000 employees this school year, ofwhich about 800 have been recalled so far.) The school district says that it made special education services a priority by not eliminating any positions or funding, but acknowledges that because state funding for special ed has been flat for six years, some vacant positions have not been filled. Kenneth Cooper, who was an assistant general counsel in the Philadelphia district's special-education law department for eight years, talked to NPR last week about the challenges that the city’s budget crisis will create this year in special education. Cooper left his position over his concerns about the quality of special ed services. Cooper said that it is nearly impossible for Philadelphia to provide the services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) with its available resources. Cooper said that the problem was not getting the district to acknowledge problems in special education services, it was getting someone to respond to them. Instead, the district seemed resigned to defending itself against lawsuits. When the district is found to have violated federal disability laws like the IDEA, it can lose big—last year the district budgeted $6.2 million for losses and judgments in special education cases, which contributed to an $8.7 million overrun in all losses in judgments that year. That $6.2 million did not include the cost of support services or school tuition that the district may be ordered to pay for. So how does the district benefit with this approach? Cooper says that the district counts on a “dirty little secret”—that kids will not use all of the support services after they are ordered, so the district will not have to pay for them. Read more here.

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