School districts can save money through a variety of options
Marsha Sutton’s column about special education costs on Aug. 30 makes it seem like disabled children are spoiled, lavished with expensive and extravagant services. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Parents of disabled children advocate and fight for basic rights that typical children’s parents take for granted — the ability to have your child in an appropriate placement in your local school close to home (instead of placed in a severe special day class because the mild-moderate one is full or being bused up to 25 miles away home); the ability to observe your child in class (instead of being restricted to 30 minutes per month with a district staff escort); and receiving truthful information about your child’s needs, available options, and rights from district staff (instead of being misled).
Receiving needed services (such as an aide) or placement at a higher level of care (non- public, residential) are usually provided only after proven failure has occurred (causing the child to regress or lack of progress for months or years), or the parents have hired an expensive advocate and engaged in hours of contentious and stressful IEP meetings or court hearings. So these services and higher placements are likely utilized only by children with the most severe needs instead of being readily available to any child with special needs, which would have been helpful to more clearly point out in the article to readers.
If school districts wanted to save money they could offer appropriate placements in the child’s local school rather than placing disabled children in schools far from home, increasing transportation costs. They could encourage parents to transport children and welcome them to bring their child to class. They could provide services instead of spending more than the services cost in legal fees fighting parents in court. School districts could also prevent placement of children in non-public schools through more district placement options and more highly trained staff. If one district mentioned in the column offered comparable pay/benefits to nearby districts they may be able to attract more highly trained aides and teachers from nearby districts who would have the ability to maintain children successfully in lower cost district placements.
No one argues that the State of California should not pass unfunded mandates and that districts face very challenging times of difficult financial decisions. I wish the column had focused more on that or on how district choices drive up costs rather than making it seem like districts voluntarily offer up a vast menu of expensive, extravagant, and unnecessary services to disabled children that take valuable funds away from typical children.