- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

Reforming special education has been one of the District’s most daunting challenges. Indeed, decade-old litigation spelled out two commonplace practices. The first was that school authorities repeatedly failed to provide students with timely status hearings and individual education plans. The other was that transportation authorities consistently failed to get students to school on time if at all. Under a federal court order for several years, city and school officials have finally begun to lay a foundation to regain control of special education. The plans call for expanding some programs and establishing new pilot programs. Charter and voucher programs are also providing several options for parents.

The need to reform is twofold: Special-needs students are legally entitled to a free public education; and the costs to provide that education is driving the D.C. school budget. In fact, according to data provided by the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, only 18 percent of the overall student population is designated special needs, but that 18 percent spends 30 percent of the overall school budget. Moreover, the the disproportionate spending does not benefit the special-ed classroom — 40 percent ($94 million) on private tuition and 31 percent ($72 million) on transportation. Only 15 percent ($35 million) was spent on instruction/administration.

It’s important that reforming special ed runs a concurrent track with overall school reform. The mayor’s bill is largely a governance proposal that would place most education functions in the hands of the mayor. It also calls for the council to gain line-item control of the school budget, a move that should have occurred long ago. The school board plan essentially changes nothing. Neither plan, however, articulates how academic achievement would improve, which is why we continue to urge a meeting of the minds.

Interestingly, both the mayor’s and the board’s plan address special education. The school board measure, for example, would provide for an additional 135 slots for emotionally disturbed students and open up 562 new special education slots in neighborhood schools. The mayor, at the urging of Council Chairman Vincent Gray, last week released a draft plan that would, among other things, establish up to 12 pilot schools for special-needs students. Both plans have merit.

It’s imperative — with the court watching their every move and the rising costs of special education robbing every classroom — that programs for special-needs students be reformed. If not, the outrageous demands made by court administrators will continue. The proposal by schools transportation chief David Gilmore is a perfect example. Mr. Gilmore wants to move the D.C. schoolbus depot to Prince George’s County and lock the city into a 10-year contract. Any reasonable observer or motorist can see that such a move would be counterproductive — especially during morning and evening rush hours.

Twice in recent years the special-ed administrators overspent their budgets — by $15 million in 2004 and $14.65 million in 2005. But, again, when those administrators divide the special-needs budget, they make sure one of the smallest slices goes to the classroom. D.C. officials should deliberate and act judiciously.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide