Bending the special-ed cost curve
Fordham’s recent look at data trends in special-education populations peered under the surface of special-ed funding—but it couldn’t dive fully into those murky waters. But with some states ostensibly spending two or three times as much per student as others, it would appear that savings can be found in this $110 billion-plus lake of school spending—without negatively impacting kids. To that end, some districts are now turning to private companies, like Futures Education, to provide quality services to disabled youngsters at a lower cost. Such firms can play a dual role. First, they are more flexible than public-school districts at providing services where and when they’re needed, hiring and retaining only the staff necessary to serve the present pupil population. If a district employs ten speech therapists on staff, it must find ways (and salaries) to keep all ten busy. A private company that hires contractors, on the other hand, can stay lean and mean. Second, because these firms are somewhat removed from the difficult politics of special ed, they may have more courage—and ability—to say no to unneeded or ineffective services. (This is not unlike the vilified but vital role that insurance companies—or Medicare—play in the healthcare system.) Of course, outsourcing special-education services is not without barnacles. Shady operators will have every incentive to overcharge and underdeliver. As such, districts must consider which services they’re outsourcing, and to whom—and what mechanisms they’re using for provider accountability. Still, this form of “public-private partnerships” could both save money and provide a path to more individualized instruction for all youngsters—so by all means let’s give it a try.
|Click to listen to commentary on private special-education services from the Education Gadfly Show podcast
|“Districts Hire Outsider to Trim Special Ed. Costs,” by Nivri Shah, Education Week, May 24, 2011.|
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