- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

The D.C. Board of Education has received two applications for charter schools for emotionally disturbed special-education students. If approved, they could help the financially strapped school board cut costs.
"I would like to use all the tools we have available now. … We wanted to look at ways to use our chartering authority to improve special education," school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said.
Last year, the school system overspent by $30 million its budget for special education students, including $6.1 million for transportation.
"If the children are in neighborhood schools, we won't have to worry about spending on transportation," said board member Tommy Wells, who is co-chairman of the board's special education committee.
The applicants for the special-education charters are District-based Renaissance Academy Public Charter School for seventh- and eight-graders and Rockville-based Developmental Management Systems for the Foundation School of Washington, which runs several secondary schools in the Washington area for students with serious emotional disorders, including the Foundation School of Montgomery County.
A board panel will review the applications by the end of March, and a decision on the applications will be made in April, charter schools Director Linda McKay said.
William Boston, a co-founder of the Renaissance Academy and a special education psychologist who has worked for the public schools system for the past three years, said programs in public schools have not been very helpful to emotionally disturbed children.
"Lot of the institutions are just holding tanks for these children. When they get out of school, they don't really have any skills," he said.
There are currently two charter schools in the District focusing on students with special needs, including the Jos-Arz Academy Public Charter School in Northeast, a high school for students who are severely emotionally disturbed. The School for Arts in Learning for elementary-school children with learning disabilities is chartered by the other chartering authority in the city, the Public Charter School Board. Several other charters also serve students with special-education needs.
Mr. Wells said that in addition to creating charter schools, the board was looking at other ways to cut back on special education costs.
The board recently decided to revive the system of entering into contracts with private schools that provide special-education services to D.C. students. Such contracts existed in the past and capped special-education spending at a certain level because the school system could negotiate "reasonable costs" with these schools, Mr. Wells said.
The Washington Times first reported in October the school board's call to create special-education charters to accommodate students who are now bused under court mandates to private schools as far away as Annapolis and Delaware.
As many as 1,830 children were placed in private schools during the 2000-01 academic year, at an average cost of $36,000 per pupil. In a charter school, on the other hand, funding for a special-education student in a nonresidential program could range from $1,099 to $18,900, in addition to a per-pupil allocation of $5,097, said Miss McKay.
"This is the first step. … There are nearly 2,000 children in [special education] day programs all around Maryland, and if I can make a dent in the 2,000, that is good enough," Mr. Wells said.


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