Bending the special-ed cost curve



Photo by Ashley Good

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
, 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.

This piece originally
(in a slightly different format) on Fordham’s
Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on private special-education services from the Education Gadfly Show podcast


Hire Outsider to Trim Special Ed. Costs
,” by Nivri Shah, Education Week, May 24, 2011.