Meeting the needs of special education students seems to be a concern in just about every school district I come in contact with. Washington D.C. is no exception. The D.C. Council is in search of a new way to reconstruct its special education program.
The cost of the special education program in Washington D.C. is depleting the education funds. D.C.’s special education budget is well out of range with that of the national average. The overall special education enrollment in Washington D.C. is only five percent higher than the national average of 15 percent, however the budget is much more than 5 percent greater.
Washington D.C. spends about $3,699 per special education student compared to the national average of $1,114 per student. The largest difference can be seen in cost for nonpublic tuition. The nation’s average in this area is 12 percent of the budget while D.C.’s share of the budget is 40 percent. The national average for nonpublic placement of special education students is three percent. That compares to 24 percent in Washington D.C.
So the question is why is Washington D.C. having to send so many special needs children out of the public school system? The goal of the district is to create the capabilities to mainstream more children with special needs. There is also a need to place a limit on the dollar amount of private tuition that will be paid. It was found that in addition to the 40 percent of the budget being spent on tuition, 31 percent was spent on transportation.
Although Washington D.C is spending much more on special needs children than others, that does not mean that the children are getting better services. The city is also spending major money on legal proceedings. Lawyers are making use of all of the weaknesses that they can find in the school district’s system.
Servicing special education students can be a touchy area for school districts. While the needs of these students must be and should be met, they should not be met at the expense of all of the other students. There must be a balance across the board.