Friday, September 4, 2009

How Will Supreme Court Decision on Special Ed Reimbursement Affect School Districts?

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, a recent Supreme Court ruling on special education is expected to put additional pressure on school districts. The ruling says parents of students with special needs have the right to seek reimbursement from their districts for private school tuition, even if they have not first tried special ed program in their public schools.

Matthew Cohen, a Chicago attorney who specializes in disability law, said the Court's June decision "makes it clear that school districts...may be held legally liable for placements that the parents make on their own." Will these mean a stampede toward private schools? Probably not, because parents would need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition -- and only then seek reimbursement. There's no guarantee they will be reimbursed, and it's unclear how those decisions will be made.

According to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education." Districts have to pay for private school only if they have tried but failed to meet a student's needs.

As you can imagine, not everyone is happy about the decision that puts even more pressure on school districts. Mark Friedman, who recently retired as a public school superintendent in the Chicago area asked, "Where do you draw the line when class size is getting bigger and you only have X number of dollars? When you can educate five kids for the cost of one special ed kid? The community is not happy when we have dwindling resources, when there are 28 students in a class and we're spending $100,000 for one kid. That feeling is out there. I have heard it, I have felt it ... and this kind of ruling can create an even bigger divide."

How would you answer Mr. Friedman's question? Where DO you think the line should be drawn? How much is too much to educate a child with special needs?
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