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D.C. Looks To Cap Special Education Costs

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Kingsbury in Northwest D.C. is one of dozens of special needs institutions impacted by the proposed rate structure.
Armando Trull
Kingsbury in Northwest D.C. is one of dozens of special needs institutions impacted by the proposed rate structure.

The Gray Administration and the District's State Superintendent of Education have proposed capping these expenses. The last of two public hearings was held Wednesday night to discuss the regulations

The cost of tuition, transportation, attorney fees and related services such as physical therapy for special needs students is $283 million a year, according to District figures. That money is spent on several dozen private schools not only in the District and the D.C. metro area, but elsewhere.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has decided to cap the amount it pays per student at $38,000 a year which equates to what it spends on similarly challenged students within the D.C. school system.

"At a time of budget constraints, we have to utilize taxpayer resources as efficiently as possible while keeping the well-being of the students first and foremost," says Tammy Lewis, assistant superintendent for special education at OSSE.

Historically there have been no set rates for sending D.C. students to these private special needs schools and in some cases tuition has been as high as $100,000 a year. Therapy and other related services have similarly been paid at widely diverging rates which are sometimes between "1.5 and 2.3 times higher than neighboring jurisdictions" says Lewis who adds that some of the rates paid in the District are higher than those for similar services in places like New York City or San Francisco.

"There is a huge variety in what providers can charge the District of Columbia for like services," says Lewis. "We don't have a clear rational standard at the moment."

OSSE wants to establish new rates based on comparisons with neighboring jurisdictions, other metro areas and federal salary guidelines for these related services as well.

The students that attend these private institutions do so because their parents successfully sued the District for not being able to provide an education as mandated by federal law.

Mike Kaufman, president of High Roads Schools says the new rate would impair those federal mandates

"All those things do cost money and it directly cuts into staffing and services for the kids," says Kaufman. "The same argument was presented by other schools and service providers who told the panel that the rates could drive some of them out of business or severely curtail the quality of their services."

OSSE is expected to announce its decision by July.

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