Saturday, April 08, 2006

Special Education: The Money Maker

I was raised by a single mother who was a special education teacher for the Walled Lake School District. She came to Alaska in the early 90's and her comment to the schools here was, they are very nice and expensive.

Now as a special education teacher, I value her comments. She also knows that the majority of the money earmarked for special education does not make it into the classroom.

During the Christmas holidays, my family would gather with other family members and politics would be the highlight of the evening. My one uncle was the president of a printing union, my mother was a special education teacher, my other uncle was an assistant superintendent who later went on to hold the position of superintendent of a school district in Michigan. Another uncle went on to become a professor at a university in Miami.

During our family debates, my mother would tell her younger brothers the majority of the special education money never makes its way into the classroom. Her brother the superintendent never had a good answer other than acknowledging that it didn't.

Well the same holds true for the Anchorage School District. Case in point is Airport Heights Elementary School. The budget only shows $18,000.00 for a teacher's assistant.

In a Memorandum dated January 23, 2006, Tim Steele's request made on November 7, 2005 seeking the cost of intensive needs students was addressed.

It took Special Education Director Jerry Sjolander 7hrs to find what should take a matter of minutes. To see what I mean go to this link.

In the Memo submitted be Carol Comeau, it identifies a typical intensive needs class at Airport Heights Elementary School as having one full time teacher and three teacher assistants.

According to last year and this year's budget and student enrollments, there are not three teachers assistants. The budget is $18,000.00.

A teacher's assistant averages $25,000.00.

Here is the part about the money never making it into the classroom. According to the memo,
the State of Alaska spends about $25,000.00 per student and the ASD spends about $18,000.00. That is a total of $38,000.00. This does not include the federal dollars nor does it cover medicaid.

So one has to ask where is the money going?

Airport Heights has a projected enrollment of 216 students. 8.5 teachers, 0.7 P.E. teacher, 0.35 art teacher. The cost per student is $12,000.00. The generated revenue for the school is $2,592,000.00.

-$ 1,352,370.00 costs to run the school
$1,239,630.00 money that is not in the classroom

What many people do not know is that the school district puts the money earmarked for special education in the general fund where it gets "lost."

Another fact not known to many is, the school district in addition to getting funds to pay for the salaries and retirement benefits to those in the Psychology departments, Speech departments and Occupational and Physical Therapy departments, these departments can be reimbursed by medicaid for both adminstrative services and actual physical services.

So what you have is the State of Alaska and the federal government paying the salaries and retirements of individuals in these departments and then Medicaid paying for the services that in effect are being paid to do the service in the first place.

To put it simply, Special Education is a money maker for the school district. And again, where is the money going.

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