Thursday, August 7, 2014

New York City's Battle Over Private Special Education Placements: Bad Motives or Poor Analysis?

The New York Times ran a story last week on balancing special education needs with rising costs. It focuses on the struggle between parents of special-education children and the New York Department of Education.  If a public school system is incapable of providing adequate education to a student with a disability, parents can request that the district cover the cost of a private school placement. The article use the experience of one student with severe disabilities to tell the larger story of parents struggles with New York City's schools.  The distirct receives thousands of private school placements each year, and the numbers are growing.  The district is currently spending  over $200 million on private placements.  To keep costs down, the city has put legal resources
into more thoroughly evaluating the requests.  The result is more denials.  
Parents are fighting back and requesting hearings to challenge the denials.   There were 6,241 hearing requests this past year, up 15.5% from the 5,403 in 2008.  Surprisingly, families tend to win these hearings.  Eric Nadelstern, former deputy schools chancellor, says the city still has a valid reason for scrutinizing and denying these requests: "[t]he more money that is diverted out of the system, to pay for private school education for youngsters, the small school budgets are."  
He is correct on one point.  A district always has an interest in ensuring that it is properly evaluating claims under the law.  The question these facts raise, however, is distinct.  Given what appears to be a high error rate in the district's decisions, the important question is whether the legal department is doing a poor job of evaluating claims and just getting it wrong too often, or the district does not care about getting it right and just wants to disincentive private placement.  The later is indefensible, the former is unfortunate.
The full N.Y. Times story is here.

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