Report Says Funds Wasted, Special Education Inadequate

Article excerpt

The District's troubled services for special-education students are wasting millions of dollars now paid to private schools, and its school system must take over the job of teaching these students itself, a preliminary D.C. Council committee report says.

The 20-month study found the public school system has not solved its underlying problem - it does not have adequate special-education programs.

Three reports circulating within the school system and D.C. government back that up.

Currently, almost a third of the District's 3,400 special-education students go to school in private and residential centers, costing the District about $74 million per year, according to the Multiyear Plan for Special Education developed by the school system in November but never released.

The D.C. Council report admits that, "since 1999, special education officials have built their administrative capacity over what was then a skeleton operation. . . . [They have] made progress in the past two years and should be applauded for gains made."

But the committee restated what the D.C. inspector general found in a November report - that some of the $74 million went to private and residential facilities that were not adequately monitored.

"As a result of insufficient monitoring, we found that students were attending schools that did not have special education programs or that did not meet the requirements for providing special education," the inspector general's report says.

The IG also found that the school system paid at least $175,645 in tuition to private education centers that did not provide adequate programs.

The committee acknowledges that the school system has been trying to bring students back into the D.C. public school system but says that the school system has "only vague plans for building special education programs within its schools while [failing] to demonstrate that the system has made local school programming a priority."

The report also says: "DCPS mentions its determination to increase offerings in local schools, yet provides no explanation of the barriers to such programming or description of DCPS procedural, planning and budgeting changes needed to overcome the barriers."

Meanwhile, the committee commends the District's public charter schools for boosting special-education services, while recommending increased funding for both public and charter schools.

The report examines the District's special education services from August 1999 to November 2000 and focuses on assessment and placement, transportation, charter schools, compliance with federal law, and the institutional commitment to deliver services.

Among the report's other findings:

* Without bringing special-education students back to public schools, it will be impossible to significantly decrease the $10,000 spent per student on transportation.

* The school system loses a vast majority of its legal fights with parents for due process violations, which diverts sizable resources away from actually teaching children. …