I read an article yesterday on Forbes.com called, “Are You Using Word Problems to Solve your Business Problems.” At first glance, this article seemingly has nothing to do with special education. The more I thought about this article the more I realized it has everything to do with special education. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Remember those word problems you dreaded in your middle-school math class? “We’ll never use that in real-life” we all thought. Well, we couldn’t be more wrong.
No, this isn’t about figuring out at what time Train A and Train B will meet if they are going 80 miles an hour. But similar types of problems have existed almost daily in all of my businesses as long as I can remember. Everything becomes a word problem.
Should I hire another sales person? Turns into: I have 200 leads a month, with an average lead requiring four hours of time over a six-week sales cycle to covert into a sale, currently working 160 hours a month each.
If you are a parent reading this you may still be wondering what this article has to do with special education. If you are a School District Administrator reading this article you might be worried that I’m about to give away your secret. If you are a School District Administrator you should be worried, because that’s exactly what I’m about to do. School District’s all over the country are facing significant budget deficits and are trying to weigh the effects of various cost cutting strategies. These strategies might include, increasing class sizes, sending Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to more Teachers, shortening the school year, or reducing spending on special education. At this point, many parents might still be wondering how a School District can reduce spending on special education when cost cannot be a factor in determining services for a child on an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is exactly the point in the article when we talk about the special education cost cutting word problem:
What will a School District’s Special Education cost equal if they offer fewer services in an IEP than can give their students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) versus offering the appropriate amount of services?
To answer this question we first need to know how many Parents will accept the offer from the School District and how many will file for some form of dispute resolution. Would it surprise you to hear that most Parents will begrudgingly accept the School District’s offer even though they don’t feel the offer is appropriate? Even assuming 10% of the Parents file for Due Process, which is higher than the national average, the School District will most likely reduce their spending on Special Education. I call this Cost Cutting Strategy, “the law of attrition.” School Districts expect only a small percentage of Parents to utilize the dispute resolution methods established by IDEA. Thus, reducing the amount the School District should be spending on Special Education if they offered the appropriate amount of services in the IEP.
Even if the School District settles in mediation or loses in a hearing what’s the worst that can happen to them? There are no punitive damage awards under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), so there really is no bite to make sure the School Districts give the proper amount of services upfront. The student can be awarded compensatory education which would just make them whole for what the school district should have provided in the IEP.
Don’t get me wrong, not all School District’s work in this manner, and I have worked as an advocate in some wonderful Districts. As a matter of fact, in my experience the larger School District’s seem to utilize this strategy more than the smaller ones. I was recently told that one of the largest School District’s in the country has stopped doing speech assessments for children in kindergarten during the IEP assessment process unless specifically asked by the Parent. This is why it’s so important for Parents to talk to each other and to create organizations such as Special Education Parent Teacher Associations (SEPTAs). In this way, Parents can determine if their School District is using this strategy. The only way to stop a School District from using this method is to tip the scales!! That means more Parents will need to file for Due Process and cause this strategy to be a losing proposition for the District. Otherwise, the only Parents getting their child an appropriate education will be that small percentage that actually files for due process and/or negotiates a settlement in mediation.