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the Atlantic: Special ed system favors the rich and Romney has a plan to fix it.

My family has lived this reality for many years. We have a severely autistic son who has attended private schools which offer intensive behavioral therapy ("Applied Behavior Analysis" or "ABA," which is the only therapeutic methodology for which much evidence of effectiveness exists) with a student-teacher ratio of 1:1, and has also been receiving extensive ABA and other related services after school. Those schools and related services have enabled our son to make what progress he has been able to achieve. They are also necessarily and extremely expensive.

But every single year, we have to "sue" NYC (technically it's not a lawsuit in a court but an impartial hearing as provided under IDEA, but it functions in very similar fashion) to cover the costs of such a school and services when they invariably recommend services far below what is necessary for our son to achieve any educational benefit. We have never lost one of our "suits" yet against NYC, but in the meantime we are required to front the cost of our son's school and services every year and seek eventual reimbursement from NYC. Very, very few families have the financial resources to do so. (And while we have enough resources to front the costs pending reimbursement, we are not nearly rich enough to bear the full costs of our son's school and services - those can exceed $170K per year.) Those that do not either have to move or make do with whatever the system offers, which is often far, far below what is necessary.

It should also be noted that the very malfunctions of large school systems such as NYC make it easier for families such as mine, who have enough resources to go through the battles every year, to obtain eventual public reimbursement for special education services. First, the IEP process described above presupposes intensive consideration of the student's individual educational needs. Large educational bureaucracies, such as NYC's, are not well equipped for that type of individual consideration. This leads to a tendency for the bureaucracies to offer services based on what's convenient and typical rather than what's appropriate for the student. Second, large school bureaucracies are not, to put it mildly, well renowned for their general administrative competence, and the IDEA imposes various elaborate procedural requirements on school districts that are regularly violated. A family can often demonstrate these two facts when necessary to enforce the IDEA against the school district, if they have the time and resources to spare.

The Atlantic our special ed system favors the rich and Romney has a plan to fix it.

Jasir interacted with the school's chief psychologist while Glasgow fantasized about the amenities: a video camera that wired to a central TiVo-like system, for ready replay to parents; a ceramics studio and music room; lights that don't buzz or flicker; two "sensory gyms" full of swings and ropes and trampolines.

After a few hours, Jasir was invited to join the school, with promises of eventually being mainstreamed out of special education altogether. The tuition would be $72,500 a year, but the Rebecca School's representatives insisted that that wouldn't be a problem for Glasgow, who fields customer complaints for the MTA.

An administrator from the school handed Glasgow a folder and pointed to a page inside. "If you want to come here," the rep said, "you ought to call one of these people on the list." It was HEADED REIMBURSEMENT FOR PLACEMENT MADE BY PARENTS IN A PRIVATE SCHOOL. Below was contact information for five lawyers and basic instructions on how to sue the city of New York.

New York City's open checkbook for autism is at the heart of the business plan for the Rebecca School, the latest in New York City's fastest-growing chain of for-profit educational institutions. When it's fully booked, perhaps two years from now, Rebecca will enroll 200 kids, making it the first megastore in a circuit of tiny boutique schools. The company launching it, Manhattan-based MetSchools, Inc., has spent $7 million to renovate 52,000 square feet of midtown office space (previously home to New York's biggest abortion clinic).

MetSchools CEO Michael Koffler, 50, is not an educator himself but a graduate of suny-Buffalo who majored in accounting and business administration. He has a Queens accent that twists its way around spools of special-education jargon, and a commonsense profit model: He finds niches where New York City's overstretched public and private systems have failed to tread. Like any business, it needs a revenue stream, and Koffler's comes from city and state government.

His entrepreneurial strategy is rooted in the national reforms sparked by a 1972 exposé of Staten Island's hellish Willowbrook State School, which shocked Congress into making sure disabled kids got a formal education. (At the time, nearly 2 million didn't.) The result was a new law entitling all children to a "free and appropriate public education"--or a city-funded private one.

New York is renowned as one of the only places in the country where parents who buy legal help can count on winning. Usually, lawyers never even have to prove the failings of the schools themselves, because the Board of Ed has missed some basic step, like putting together an education plan for the child (also required by law). Skyer ticks off a few other typical bureaucratic screwups: "They don't hold meetings, they lose files, they don't have mandated people at meetings, placements are not made in suitable groups." Usually the educators who attend the legal hearings have never met the children.

-- NY Mag


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