San Francisco schools struggle to pay for special ed
In a time of budget crises for schools all over the country, there are ongoing attempts to cut budgets. But should it be done on the backs of severely behaviorally challenged students?
A plan to close a small school for children with severe behavioral problems is mushrooming into a larger battle over how the San Francisco Unified School District treats special-education students.
In recent months, the district signaled that it intended to end its 31-year partnership with the nonprofit Erikson School in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco and eventually reassign its 16 students to mainstream programs.
That would be just one of many such moves. Facing a $25 million budget deficit, the district intends to transfer all of its 6,000 special-education students into mainstream programs in the public schools over the next several years. The district spends about $122 million a year on special-education services.
The battle over Erikson, which has received $2.5 million during the last five years while operating rent-free out of buildings owned by the district, illustrates the challenges the district faces as it tries to put the controversial policy in place.
Representatives of at least eight students have taken legal action to prevent the district from placing their children in other schools, according to Shelley Lobell, the school’s founder and its executive director. Erikson administrators argue that district officials based decisions about the school on budget concerns, although a federal law requires districts to put students’ needs above all other priorities.
Read the whole thing.
Federal law trumps local school budget considerations, and indeed there are many who could make the claim that these sort of mandates have led to much of the budgetary crises in the first place. But that's an argument for another post.
And then there's those students' future classmates and teachers. There are alternative programs like these for a reason, and they serve two very important functions. One, they allow the disabled students to get a chance at some sort of education. And, to be brutally blunt, they also allow other students to be educated without worrying if they or their teacher are going to get attacked by students with severe behavior issues. Yes, it is very expensive. But, as San Francisco administrators may be learning, so are lawsuits.