New regs for private special ed schools
District officials proposed new rules Friday to more tightly regulate the quality and cost of private schools where special education students are sent at public expense.
A 2006 law passed by the D.C. Council authorized more rigorous oversight, but only now is the District getting around to establishing specific regulations to put the measure on its feet. The rules, published Friday in the D.C. Register, will require the schools to obtain a "Certificate of Approval" (COA) from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education confirming that they comply with health and safety standards and are following each student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) -- the official document setting out the help that a child needs. It will also, for the first time, place limits on what the District will pay to private educators.
About 2,700 disabled District students attend private schools, at a projected cost this year of $283 million in tuition and transportation. Parents pursue private schools as an option for their children under federal law when it is determined that the District system can't meet their needs. There are about 90 day schools in the Washington area and an additional 119 residential facilities as far away as Colorado where District children have been placed.
The schools were issued COAs after the law was passed. But until recently, there has been little to no District monitoring. Teams from OSSE have now visited most of the schools and will begin to issue updated COAs after the regs go into effect. Tameria Lewis, assistant state superintendent for special education, said that while deficiencies have been identified in some schools, so far only one -- SunRise Academy in Northwest D.C. -- has had its certificate pulled.
The costs vary widely, depending on the school and the needs of the child. Day schools run anywhere from $23,000 to $81,000 a year. Residential facilities can exceed the $250,000 mark. The District wants to lower its special education costs, both by more tightly regulating fees and by returning to the public school system children it believes would benefit from a less restrictive environment.
Lewis said there was often no rhyme or reason to the tuition rates. In some instances, she said, it was because "somebody made a deal with somebody a long time ago." The proposed regulations call for the District to pay a base rate tied to the existing uniform per-student funding level for special education students plus an allowance for indirect costs, or $38,730 for a 180-day school year. Schools would be able to charge additional fees for "related services" such as psychological counseling or speech therapy. Tuition at residential schools would be based on the same formula or on rates set by states where the schools are located -- whichever is less.
Lewis said she expects about half of the private schools to come out ahead financially and half to lose money.Schools would be able to appeal the rates to a "reconsideration panel" at OSSE.
The proposals will remain open for a 45-day public comment period. Officials hope to have them in place early in the upcoming school year.
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