Pennlive by State Rep Joe Ciresi, March 8, 2021
The system in which Pennsylvania pays charter schools for special education is broken. For every special education student who leaves a traditional public school to attend a charter school, their home district is required to reimburse that charter school based on an illogical average cost to educate special education students. The problem is that in practice, nine times out of 10 the true cost is lower than this average, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overpayments funneled away from the students in our traditional public schools. This is because there’s a huge range in the costs associated with providing a federally-mandated free and appropriate special education. The costliest students might require services such as a full-time aide and specialized transportation that can climb into six figures. Others might only need speech therapy in a group setting once per week – a marginal cost of a few thousand dollars. In Pennsylvania, 90% of special education students fall into our lowest-cost range of up to $25,000. Of the remaining 10%, 7% cost between $25,000 to $50,000 while 3% are high-cost students requiring services costing $50,000 or more. So, when we bill school districts on the average costs of all special education students, the tuition amount is driven higher by the few high-cost outliers. To make matters worse, the data shows that charter schools tend to enroll a higher proportion of the lowest cost students (94%) and fewer of the most expensive students (only 1.4%).
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