Transportation Costs of Special Education

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

Kids on School Bus --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Kids on School Bus — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

When the federal government passed legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – Public Law 94-142) they knew they were laying the groundwork for an enormous sea change in the way schools would manage their special education services. They could not have accurately estimated the enormous bureaucracy and costs to school districts that would follow.

The law consists of four parts:

  • Part A lays out the basic foundation for the rest of the act
  • Part B lays out the educational guidelines for school children 3-21 years of age
  • Part C recognizes the need for identifying and reaching very young children with disabilities
  • Part D describes national activities to be undertaken to improve the education of children with disabilities

The devil is in the details, and IDEA Part B Regulations: 34 CFR 300.16(b)(14) is where the details live. For example, transportation includes “travel to and from school and between schools, travel in and around school buildings,” and “specialized equipment (such as special or adapted buses, lifts and ramps) if required… for a student with a disability.” The IEP must include the type of vehicle, specific equipment, circumstances under which transportation will be provided, pick-up and drop-off points, personnel who will be involved and goals and objectives for the transportation.”1

The costs of preparing for and providing transportation to special education children grow every year. In Buffalo, NY when I was a young SPED teacher, students called the little yellow buses for SPED kids “The Cheese.” It’s a reference, of course, to the color of the buses—identical to Velveeta. It was a pejorative term and many older children avoided using the buses at all costs to avoid stigma.

Each bus is specially equipped with lifts and other seat alterations to accommodate wheelchairs and other equipment required for student safety. Then there are the specialized vans. As medical science improves the outcomes of early term pregnancies, enrollment of children with complex medical conditions who attend regular public schools increases. In schools, we see children with breathing tubes and other elaborate medical support devices in special classrooms all in the interest of providing education in the “least restrictive environment,” as required by law.empty school bus

The part that gets expensive is one that has been challenged in court on many occasions. Let’s say a student living in Smallville has an extremely complicated medical condition that requires medical care 24/7 that the school district cannot provide on its own. The town must pay the costs of transporting the child to a town that does. I can recall cases where students were transported 30-40 miles each way to facilities with specialized support for complex situations. Therefore, the student is on the bus much of the day, which may require a specially trained aide to attend at all times. It’s hugely expensive and sets up a situation where districts must decide whether to provide the transportation or create a facility that supports those special needs.

In recent years, Massachusetts districts spent on average six percent of their total operating expenditures and 33 percent of their total special education expenditures on out-of-district special education placements. The average outplacement cost for private day programs is just under $51,000 per year, and for public programs in collaboratives the cost is just under $32,000 per year.2

Private residential programs cost an average of $105,000 per year. Districts spend more for transportation to private day schools, at roughly $9,600 per pupil per year on average. These costs are rising. States are stepping up to help districts support the costs by creating Circuit Breaker funds, but I have to wonder if the system is sustainable. 

Tough decisions need to be made at IEP meetings, and districts are placed in an awkward situation, looking like a bad guy if they don’t provide elaborate services for these children. The children are ours and we can’t turn our backs, but we all face challenges coming up with solutions.

Resources for your consideration:

Let me know how your school or district manages transportation costs.

1 Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, http://www.spannj.org/publications/transportation_pub.htm

2 Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, March 2009. Office of Strategic Planning, Research, and Evaluation


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug-Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588

Email: Christy.Duncan-Anderson@safeway.com

Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States​

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Transition Planning

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

As special education students reach high school, it becomes time to think about the afterlife—that is, life after high school.

boy writing 2The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that within the IEP in place when the student turns 16, there must include transition service needs. However, it’s never too early to start the process. Factors to be considered are:

Will there be:

  • Continued academic preparation?
  • Development of a viable community experience?
  • Development of vocational and independent living objectives?
  • A functional vocational evaluation (if applicable)?

Guidance is necessary to move from high school to the next stages in life. Steps must be documented and taken to guide and prepare students for college and a career or for independent living. Without goals, students may fall off the radar and flounder. Consider these sobering statistics:

kids testingOne way to begin is to teach students to advocate for themselves as early as possible.

  • Begin by talking with students about what they do well and the extent of their disability. Many students have never been required to articulate the nature of their disability. Likewise, they can’t always talk about skills they have learned and mastered to date.
  • Students may need to practice the words they need to verbalize what they can and cannot do.
  • Evaluate whether students can succeed in a post-secondary academic setting. Not all students are college material, but students need to be able to engage in discussions about college or community college.
  • Plan a visit to your local community college. This resource is uniquely qualified to provide the kind of guidance your students will need to get the conversation started.

Starting at age 14 and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team should:

  • Help the student work through his or her own IEP
  • Take into account the student’s preferences and interests
  • Include developing the student’s post-school goals

See more at: Wrightslaw.com.

For students who are interested in embarking on a career right out of high school, administering an interest inventory might be a way to start. Finding the right job is not easy, even for highly skilled individuals. It’s even more difficult for those who lack adequate training or face special challenges.

For more great ideas on how to start preparing students for effective transition planning:

Grant Name: Technical Assistance and Dissemination to Improve Services and Results for Children With Disabilities

Funded By: Department of Education

Description: The purpose of this priority is to fund three cooperative agreements to establish and operate model demonstration projects that are designed to improve the literacy of adolescents with disabilities in middle and high school grades. For purposes of this priority, the target population includes: Students with disabilities in grades 6 through 12 who score below grade level in reading, or who have identified reading goals and objectives on their individualized education program.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Reading, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 5/4/2015

Annual Total Amount: $1,200,000.00

Average Amount: $400,000.00

Address: Education Publications Center (ED Pubs), U.S. Department of Education, PO Box 22207, Alexandria, VA 22304

Telephone: 202-245– 6425

Email: Gregory.Knollman@ed.gov

Website: Department of Education

Availability: All States

IEP Team and Materials Inspection

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

teacher timeLast time, I talked about treading the fine line between cutting costs and providing the best possible services to our kids within the constraints we see. If balanced properly, we can support our SPED kids to make sure their capabilities are maximized. That is our goal. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams we employ to study each child’s school environment are keys to finding these solutions.

To review: IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child or, when appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual in the fourth slot who is “qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities.” Because this individual is key member of the team, we usually invite our curriculum director and, when practical, our library media specialists to supply this service. At first, the director was reluctant; they said they had many other jobs to do and attending IEP meetings was very time consuming. After attending a few meetings though, they understood how important it was to be sure our recommendations for SPED services were aligned with the core standards we are all embracing. The way to supervise specially designed instruction is to stay tightly linked to the standards and in turn improve the curriculum and instruction for all students. SPED curriculum offerings have become very sophisticated over time; they can help us fine-tune our instruction for best results.

I have cautioned about bringing in sales reps to sample new wares for teaching all kids. The truth is that there really is no other way to make ourselves aware of the best of what’s out there. Once a month or so, you might have a meeting with key people where companies can come in and show their products. Wearing lenses with nonsense filters helps, and we’ve all developed these as we have seen the best and worst come across our desks. The instructional analyst on your SPED IEP team might be a key person to coordinate the meetings.

The way to approach it is to isolate areas in the curriculum that are weak for all students based on your data (I keep going back to data, but it has become essential), prioritizing the areas and then inviting company representatives who can explain what their products can provide in these areas.

How do you know the best companies? Networking with other districts that have similar demographics and needs helps. A few phone calls to your counterparts in other cities can inform you of new curriculum offerings. Read reviews online. Department heads can help too. It may not be necessary to have them attend IEP meetings, but you can interview them to see what’s on their wish lists for books and software. A key person for evaluating books and programs is your library media specialist. Everything passes across their desk and he/she will be very helpful.

So, damn the budgets (at least for now). Let’s look at all that’s out there so our instructional team can find the best for our kids. Going in to an IEP meeting with a plan and decisions made about best practices in advance can save time for busy people. It’s always best to be proactive instead of reactive.

There are some good resources to help you evaluate curriculum products here:

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED programs and materials and maintaining great educational services.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Standard Charitable Foundation

Description: At The Standard, caring about people is a core value reflected in our commitment to the communities across the United States where our employees live and work. We provide corporate philanthropic support to nonprofit organizations working in the following four areas: Healthy Communities, Disability and Empowerment, Cultural Development and Education and Advancement.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Address: Public Affairs P12B 1100 SW 6th Ave, Portland OR 97204

Telephone: 971-321-3162

Website: Standard Charitable Foundation

Availability: All States

Budgets and IEP Team Activities

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

This time of year, we are creating Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams and preparing for annual meetings for our kids. The subject of IEP team creation has come up in our district. An administrator noticed that budgets for last year had to be increased for SPED because of a very liberal IEP team that wrote expensive equipment into their program. A challenge for all districts: how do you find a balance between providing services and maintaining budgets? There are some promising new software solutions for some of the more common learning disabilities, but they are expensive and untried. Is it worth the investment? Can we find more cost effective solutions for similar problems?

Daily Organizer

The quick answer is, “Of course it’s worth the investment; we shouldn’t skimp on our kids.” The real answer is more complicated and deserves study and review.

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) describes the IEP team as including:

  • The parents of the child
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of the child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment)
  • Not less than one special education teacher of the child, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of the child
  • representative of the public agency who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and knowledgeable about the available resources of the public agency
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results
  • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate (invited at the discretion of the parent or the agency)
  • The child with a disability (when appropriate)

I’d like to focus on the individual who can “interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results.” Our superintendent has asked if this person is properly trained to deliver this service. He is supportive of district teams in general, but his responsibility is to stay within budget. The evaluation of services is an ongoing job, and it can’t be delegated to just one person, especially in large districts. You may have an “evaluation specialist” that attends your meetings, and you would hope that person has thoroughly evaluated new programs and equipment, but there aren’t always enough hours in the day.

Since 94-142 laws and their amendments have been written, the costs for special education services have soared. Providing programs and equipment to support the least restrictive environment language in the federal law has created a huge business for publishers and software companies. Are we too eager to jump on bandwagons without study?

If you’ve ever attended a sales meeting for large publishing company sales reps to come and show their wares, you know how tempting this is. The presentations are slick, and the statistics they throw around make it sound like their products are the only solutions for some of the more challenging disabilities and behaviors we see that cause referrals for SPED services at the classroom teacher’s level.

This subject deserves careful attention, and a single blog will not cover it adequately. I’ve collected some resources for you to review if this blog opens the dialogue for your teams.

Tell us if your district has a plan in place for reviewing SPED budgets and maintaining great educational services.


 

Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Safeway Foundation

Description: The Safeway Foundation supports nonprofit organizations whose mission is aligned with our four priority areas: Hunger Relief, Education, Health and Human Services, and Assisting People with Disabilities.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $2,500.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 5918 Stoneridge Mall Road Pleasanton, CA 94588

E-mail: Christy.Duncan-Anderson@safeway.com

Website: Safeway Foundation

Availability: All States