Thursday, May 16, 2013

Skimping on Special Education

Policy Director Suzanne Greenfield from Advocates for Justice and Education guest blogs on the FY 2014 Budget proposals will have on D.C. children with special needs.

According to the District of Columbia Public Schools, there were approximately 8,200 students receiving special education services, this figure does not account for the number of children receiving services in the Public Charter school system.

The District of Columbia estimates that it expects to record a savings of approximately $30 million dollars by bringing special education students back from private school placements. What the District’s budget fails to acknowledge is the cost associated with creating and implementing programming sufficient to meet the needs of those same children.

The budget as proposed by DCPS provides little reinvestment to support students with special needs. Students in the District of Columbia are not placed in private school placements solely due to the will of their parents. The primary reason is that the District has failed to provide adequate services and supports to ensure that the needs of their children are met. 

These savings are not being reprogrammed into special education. A part of the savings is being used to increase the per student formula and the other part will go to support the expansion of services for Early Intervention students between 3 and 5 who have been identified as needing special education. While we whole-heartedly support the expansion of early intervention services - it does not address the needs of the students coming back to the system. We believe that any savings should be proportionately directed to improving and sustaining effective programs, programs that will genuinely support both the students returning from non-public placements and those future students. 

Advocates for Justice and Education (AJE) provides support, education and advocacy for students with special needs. As the Parent Training and Information Center for the District of Columbia we have two major goals: to work collaboratively with schools to improve educational outcomes for children with special needs and to ensure that all children have access to a free and appropriate public education. 

The Mayor has made bringing students back to the city and cutting the cost of non-public placements a priority. While we too would like to see those students have an opportunity to receive their education in a neighborhood school, we see no evidence that the school system is developing the programs to meet those student’s needs let alone the needs of students that are already in the schools.

Special education savings need to be directed to fully funding high quality educational programs. The schools are presently struggling to provide appropriate placements, services and supports for our students – adding more to the mix without first creating programs that are capable of supporting the students they are already serving seems self defeating at best – and truly immoral at worst.

In this city neither school system (DCPS or the charters) has the reputation for ensuring that students with special education needs are being served in an appropriate way. While we have seen individual schools support the needs of their students, we have never seen the school system support the needs of the schools. The issue mirrors the larger education issue in that there is no over arching plan, decisions are not based on actual best practices, and the results are too few and too limited and nothing is sustained long enough to see value. We believe much more needs to be done to improve quality of the programs in place and to ensure that schools are meeting the needs of all their students.

To learn more about Advocates for Justice and Education check out there website at

This blog is brought to you by DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. To stay up-to-date on youth issues in DC visit our website at You can also FOLLOW and LIKE  us on Twitter and Facebook!  

No comments: