The U.S. Supreme Court latest case to be reviewed is a New York case referred to as Tom F. over parental rights to receive reimbursement for private school placements. As with many public discussions the media coverage in this case is one-sided, biased against parents, and based upon false perceptions rather than fact. It is up to all of us to take a public stand and to slam back whenever false impressions of students with special needs are portrayed publicly or for that matter in schools or at meetings.
The following post is from Selene Almazan who is has been on the front lines for years fighting for inclusion in Maryland as part of her job at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education (MCIE) and as an officer of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). Her post is a reprint of a letter that she sent to the New York Times rebutting incorrect and misleading statements that have been published regarding parents and the need for private placements. Unlike this typical news story, her rebuttal is based on fact and data, not perception and innuendo.
As many of you know, there have been recent news articles regarding the newest Supreme Court case, Bd. of Educ. of the City School District of the City of New York v. Tom. F., that have presented a one sided view of educating students with disabilities and perpetuate a long-standing myth about the use of public school education funds to pay for expensive private schools. The COPAA Board of Directors responded to the March 21, 2007 New York Times' article, "Fighting for When Public Should Pay Private Tuition for Disabled," and will continue to respond to these one sided viewpoints:
When Schools Fail Children, the Law Requires Them to Pay Others to Do Their Jobs for Them.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted to eliminate discrimination against, and failure to adequately educate, children with disabilities.The Supreme Court defined the scope of education these students were to receive nearly 25 years ago: A special education student's program must be reasonably calculated to provide a student with meaningful educational benefit. This is not
a high standard, and the quality of education it requires is far from the "best."
Contrary to the assertions in the article, parents cannot simply choose a private school and send their school district the bill. Parents are entitled to reimbursement for private programs only if an independent hearing officer or a court finds that the school district's program is so inferior that it fails this minimal legal standard.
Use of public funds to pay for private schools is expressly authorized by law in those cases when the public schools fail to provide the free appropriate education required to meet a child's unique needs. Parents should not be forced to put their children in inadequate special-education programs and wait for them to fail or flounder before seeking redress. A year of education lost means only further harm to the child.
Unfortunately, 32 years after IDEA's enactment, children with disabilities nationwide continue to receive inadequate and ineffective educations, and most states fail to comply with IDEA's most essential requirements, according to the presidentially-appointed National Council on Disability.
The Data Indicates that New York City Inadequately Educates Many Students With Disabilities.
The New York Times reported in July 2004 that New York City failed to give thousands of students the evaluations required before they can even begin to receive special-education services. Only 9 percent of special-education students in the 3rd through 8th grade passed city and state reading tests. According to 2005-06 data, New York City students with disabilities are much less likely to graduate and more likely to drop out than in other parts of the state. Their dropout rate is almost 30%.
Contrary to the implication in the article, families of children with disabilities are often of limited financial circumstances. Approximately 36% of children with disabilities live in families earning less than $25,000 a year; over 2/3 earn less than $50,000 a year.
Private Placements Are only Tiny Portion of Public School Expenses:
Students Are Not Unnecessarily Put in Private Placements
In New York City, where Tom F. began, statistics indicate that 0.19 percent of total student enrollment are students who are privately placed at public expense, representing only 0.17 percent of New York City's budget.
According to a study released last week by the Hoover Institution, "Debunking a Special Education Myth" a very small number of students nationwide are placed in private schools at public expense and these students represent a "tiny" portion of public school expenses. The Hoover Institution found that "the likelihood that disabled students will be placed in a private school has not grown in the last 15 years."
It is inaccurate to suggest that funding students with disabilities in private schools at public expense is the rule rather than an extremely rare exception. During 2004, private schools served, at public expense, only 1.48 percent of students with disabilities, compared to 1.6 percent in 1989, according to the U.S. Department
of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. Nationally, only 0.18 percent of all students with disabilities are placed in private schools at public expense.
Moreover, the article seems to suggest that special education drains an inordinately large portion of funds from education budgets. In fact, total revenue for public education nearly doubled between 1977 and 2003, adjusted for inflation. But special education costs constituted roughly the same share of total public school revenue (8.3 percent) in 2003 as in 1977, according to a recently-released Hoover Institution study.
School Districts Often Litigate Special-Education Disputes toThe Bitter End Instead of Resolving Them.
The nearly bankrupt Ravenswood, CA school district paid $2.1 million to an Atlanta law firm to defend a program a federal court found grossly deficient. A Georgia school district spent $1.3 million in fees to sue parents who had simply requested an Independent Educational Evaluation for their child. After the district rebuffed eight settlement offers, the parents finally received their evaluation.
A majority of states are out of compliance with IDEA's most basic, essential requirements. A recent GAO study of 31 states found that 30 had compliance failures. Over half were directly related to providing critical services such as counseling, speech therapy, and assistive technology.
The millions of American children with disabilities deserve the same decent education that other children receive. Sadly, factually incorrect articles encourage society to turn its back on these children and reinstate the separate and unequal education the IDEA was supposed to eliminate once and for all.
Selene A. Almazan, On Behalf of the COPAA Board of Directors