New special education rate structure delayed
Heeding protests from parents and educators, District officials have put off implementation of a new rate structure for private schools that serve about 2,700 D.C. special education students at public expense. The rates, scheduled to take effect this fall, would have limited tuition payments to $215 per day ($38,700 for a 180-day school year). Tuition can range from $20,000 to more than $100,000 a year.
Parents and private school operators said the rate schedule was a rigid "one size fits all" approach that would create hardships for schools that had already set their budgets and hired staff for the coming year. They also said that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), the agency charged with monitoring the progress of privately placed students, was trying to rush the new rates onto the books over the summer. The attorney who represents students under the Petties class action suit governing tuition and transportation said earlier this month that he would seek a court injunction delaying imposition of the revised rates.
Tameria Lewis, assistant state superintendent for special education, said Tuesday that OSSE would extend final rule-making into November and that new rates would not be effective until July 2011. The new timetable will allow for more discussion with stakeholders and time for schools to plan, she said.
"Our intention is not to hurt schools or more importantly hurt children," Lewis said.
The District pays about $280 million a year in tuition and transportaion for private schools. Parents of disabled children can pursue private placement if it is determined that public schools cannot provide a "free and appropriate" education as required by federal law. District students attend about 90 schools in the Washington area and residential facilities as far away as Colorado.
Lewis said the rate revisions were not a cost-cutting effort but an attempt to bring coherence and equity to an area where there has been little regulation. A 2006 law passed by the D.C. Council mandated more rigorous oversight, but only now is the District getting around to establishing specific regulations to put the measure on its feet.
OSSE said it would not delay launch of other regulatory changes. Starting this fall, schools will be required to obtain a "Certificate of Approval" (COA) from the District 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.
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