Special education costs demand transparency
More than a year ago, the Cape Henlopen school board questioned the cost of special education for a few Cape students. The Cape Gazette, in turn, began investigating the cost of services provided to special needs students in residential care.
All children are entitled to a free, appropriate public education; to get it, some children require intensive support services. Still, when, as our investigation found, the cost of residential services rises to an average of more than $230,000 annually per child - in one case to an estimated $500,000 - taxpayers want to know what they are paying for.
After a year, we still have no clear answers.
District officials said they receive a bill for special education services from the Department of Education, and they pay it; they don’t know what services are provided. Department of Education officials insist the districts make contracts with providers, so it’s the school districts that monitor the costs.
In short, neither the districts nor the Department of Education can say what services they’re paying for, yet the bills for 17 students topped $7.6 million in 2012.
It’s not just a question of bureaucracy or mismanagement. Under state policy, education officials say, if an institution provides services to fewer than 15 students, officials can, to protect privacy, offer no specifics on services provided.
Is it any surprise, then, that there is only one facility in Delaware for which information is available? Or that many special needs children are now housed in group homes, with, of course, fewer than 15 children in each one?
Simply by housing children in small facilities, corporations can avoid public scrutiny of how taxpayer dollars are spent.
The children and taxpayers deserve no less.