An education in the politics of special ed

Richard Nyankori, D.C.’s top special education official, has found himself at the confluence of red tape, angry parents, budget cuts, and education’s sacred cow. Needing to streamline the DCPS budget to help fund the District’s new teacher performance pay program, Nyankori announced nearly out-of-the-blue that over 200 special education students would be returning to the “least restrictive environment” of public school from their (district-paid) posh private school placements. D.C. has long been labeled “unfit” to serve much of its special needs population, hence the outside placements. But the external services will run the district $283 million this year—or $105,000 per pupil. Count it. Surprised and angry parents came out en masse to a special education “reintegration” briefing, where Nyankori said he’d “take the whip” for DCPS’ abrupt announcement, and assured parents that the transition would be smooth. There’s no denying that SPED is an indispensable though expensive venture, but $100,000 per kid?! There has to be a way to do this better.

D.C. Special-Ed Chief Apologizes for Mishandling Private School Removal Plan,” by Bill Turque, Washington Post, May 28, 2010