Saturday, April 05, 2008

School Funding And Special Education

Cato Institute directory Andrew J. Coulson has a piece in today's post arguing that the true annual per pupil spending in the D.C. schools is "close to $25,000 per child", not the commonly recited "$8,322 per child". Although he admits to inflating that figure by including the teacher retirement fund, which seems rather misleading, I would be interested in seeing follow-up on the actual numbers.

But what really caught my eye was this claim:
So why force most D.C. children into often dilapidated and underperforming public schools when we could easily offer them a choice of private schools? Some would argue that private schools couldn't or wouldn't serve the District's special education students, at least not affordably. Not so.

Consider Florida's McKay Scholarship program, which allows parents to pull their special-needs children out of the public schools and place them in private schools of their choosing. Parental satisfaction with McKay is stratospheric, the program serves twice as many children with disabilities as the D.C. public schools do, and the average scholarship offered in 2006-'07 was just $7,206. The biggest scholarship awarded was $21,907 -- still less than the average per-pupil spending in D.C. public schools. If Florida can satisfy the parents of special-needs children at such a reasonable cost, why can't the District?
Is Coulson truly reporting that Florida has found schools that will accept the highest-need of its high-need kids, with the cost never exceeding $21,907, and the private school declining any further public support toward that child's education? If so, that's pretty remarkable. If not, it's exceptionally dishonest of Coulson to fail to acknowledge the enormous public expenditures often directed at special needs children enrolled in private schools. Because the public schools may be providing additional thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, per pupil for such costs as aides and medical attendants.

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