Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Send Your Special Ed Bills to the Feds

This situation illustrates the yawning chasm between what is truly needed for "special education" and what school districts would like to spend. So your student is bored in school? Label him "special ed", ruin his educational life, and collect huge money from gullible taxpayers.

Worst of all, under the "privacy" rules, "special ed" money does not endure the level of scrutiny afforded other funding structures in public ed. Sounds like a great way to launder public funds without the threat of oversight.

This should also serve as a warning about the perils of channeling money through the federal government. As usual, if they want to impose a rule they cannot do by force, they will threaten to withhold federal money until states comply. Remember the 55mph speed limit federal funding fiasco?
- Jim Peschke, Croydon, NH

The following piece appeared in the Union Leader. Cathy

SAU 53 schools plan to bill Uncle Sam for special ed costs
Special to the Union Leader
Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

Citing an unfair burden on local property taxpayers, the five school districts in SAU 53 will be billing the United States government for special education balances left over after federal aid has been applied.

Superintendent Peter Warburton said school boards in all his districts, encompassing Allenstown, Chichester, Deerfield, Epsom and Pembroke, have voted in support of an initiative by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA).

According to a letter from Mary Kusler, a representative of the AASA, the project is a revival of one in Barrington several years ago. The AASA sent letters to all its members across the country, including a template for the bill, to the federal government.

The letter said that when Congress passed the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) in 1975, it promised to pay 40 percent of the average expenditure for every pupil in special education. The letter went on to say that Congress is currently at 17 percent, instead of the 40 percent originally promised.

"The project is intended to bring increased attention to the federal shortfall for funding special education," Warburton said.

The demands on educating this segment of students are increasing, Warburton said. While No Child Left Behind has had an influence, the real bite comes with unanticipated special education costs, he said. For example, he said, a special education student moving to town in the middle of the year could cost a district $100,000 or more in services, money that is not always budgeted.

The gesture is both symbolic and one that may have results, Warburton said. The current economic stimulus bill has money set aside for special education, and if the government increased its share of the funding even to 25 percent, "That would be very nice," he said.

But they also hope to send a message to Congress with the invoices. "If enough districts respond nationally, we will have a voice," Warburton said.

Barbara Noonan, chairman of the Epsom School Board, said, "I hope they take it seriously. We've just started talking about the unfunded federal and state mandates, and asked the SAU to list the cost for the past three or four years." She said business administrator Peter Aubrey was compiling a list of the mandates and what they cost the towns.

Noonan credited Epsom principal Patrick Connors for making it work. "We're fortunate to have the principal we do," she said. Because of his budgeting skills, the proposed increase this year is 0.83 percent, she said.

"Every time we turn around there's another mandate," Noonan added, and the burden is "on the backs of the taxpayers."

While so-called "catastrophic aid" is helpful, it comes a year after the special ed expenses have already been incurred, she said. "And you have to have spent in excess of a certain amount of money. But it's the nickels and dimes' that are breaking us," she said.

The Deerfield School Board voted unanimously in its last meeting to endorse the move and bill the feds. While board member Don Gorman wasn't present for the vote, he said he's been angry for years about unfunded federal mandates. "I think it's a great idea," Gorman said. "I've been yelling about it for years." Gorman called the current funding system a "shell game. The feds tell the states, if you want our money, you'll play the game." If the states don't play by the federal rules, they'll lose what aid they do get, Gorman said.

There are other unfunded mandates, but special education is one of the most costly, according to Gorman. IDEA mandates that the district educate the child and provide services, but "a kid could come into the district tomorrow and cost us $100,000," he said.

Gorman compared the billing of the government to a straightforward business transaction. "If I were making airplanes, I'd send them a bill," he said. "Will they take it seriously? Who knows what they'll do?"

For Noonan, it all depends on how many districts bill the feds. "If a volume of districts is doing this, they'll have to take us seriously," she said.

No comments: