- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

The headline in The Washington Post on Sunday raised and answered its own question: “Special-ed tuition a growing drain on D.C.: Basic needs take a hit to cover costs of sending kids to private schools.” The article, which went on to say that in order to cover the rising costs school officials have been “transferring tens of millions of dollars a year” from other programs, drew the attention of the editorial writers, who yesterday delivered a response: “Unbridled costs: As spceial educaton spending soars, D.C. schools raid other accounts.”

We commend our crosstown counterparts for speaking out on such a worthy topic. As School Board Vice President Carolyn Graham said, “We don’t know how much we’ve paid. We don’t know what we paid for.”

From our perspective and that of School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritiz, spending on D.C. special education programs is “the biggest scam in America.”

That’s an unconscionable bottomline — one that has been pointed out for years by the city’s chief financial officer, the city’s inspector general and the city’s auditor (and, it’s worth noting, this page). In fact, 2001, the first year of Mrs. Cafritz’s tenure, CFO Natwar Gandhi detailed $80 million in school spending pressures, including $24.6 million in overspending on special education. That warning was sounded in September 2002. In October, Mr. Gandhi testified to the D.C. Council that “special education accounts for one-third of all costs [of the education budget]…and their numbers continue to grow and exceed budget projections.”

The CFO has sounded the special education spending alarms, at a minimum, annually, while D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols and the Office of the Inspector General have urged school officials to reform their costly spending ways.

We applaud The Post for placing much-needed emphasis on the drain special education is placing on taxpayers. As the editorial pointed out, cost overruns at the dysfunctional school transportation system are a huge drain. But we differ with the editorial’s position that “unbridled costs” are the problem.

Year after costly year the school board has spent it wheels on reforming yet another aspect of the school system. And year after year the city’s top overseers have prodded school authorities toward reform, but to no avail. So, here we are again, pointing out in an editorial that the costs of education are not the problem. The problem is a simple but long-standing one: failed leadership leads to unchecked spending.

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