Something happened this evening preventing the live broadcast of Lowell’s School Committee Meeting for March 1. Until the taped meeting materializes, there won’t be any notes about what transpired; however, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to think about.
Found in the Permissions to Enter, are 4 requests totaling $882,470. All of these requests are expenditures from the Special Education Tuition account and are for Out of District (OOD) costs to agencies servicing student Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
When the services necessary to provide a free and adequate education for a student cannot be met within the local school district, they must be contracted out. It is the legal responsibility of the school district to ensure that all students have access to the educational services that they need, and if the services cannot be provided from within, the district must provide those services through an agency that can. No one gets turned away because educational needs are challenging.
All of the recent talk about vouchers and funding and such got me thinking about this. With the implementation of a voucher, or “school choice” program, would there be a requirement for all school settings (public, charter, private/religious) to equitably accept students regardless of special education need?
Here’s how that is playing out right now in Lowell. Students receiving services are counted as Students with Disabilities on DESE’s student profile for Lowell Public School District. This number is reported at 16% (data from 2016-17). There are several educational environments for special education service delivery as shown in the following graphic. This data, the most recent on DESE’s Lowell Public Schools profile site, is from 2015 and is the most recent reported on DESE’s site. The data includes children aged 6-21 with IEPs.
In thinking about what might happen should a voucher program become reality, I took a look at what currently occurs with traditional public schools and charter schools. Charter Schools should reflect a similar demographic to the local public school district. In principle, sometimes charter schools do, but sometimes they do not.
In Lowell, the Community Charter School reports 15.5% of enrolled students have disabilities, yet the Collegiate Charter School reports 11.6% (both 2016-17 data, same timeframe as reported for LPSD above).
Using the most recent data available for educational environments (2015), however, reveals that sometimes digging deeper into data can be interesting. Take a look at the data specifying educational environment, especially those environments that require specialized intervention and services, such as Out of District placements.
Neither of the two charter schools have special education students needing either substantially separate services or separate schools/facilities/homebound-hospital placements?
So as the proponents of a voucher, or “choice” system continue to push their agenda forward, I’ll be watching to see if those hollering about choice for all families and students really mean all. Or do they mean just those students with less challenging needs.