‘Education’ articles

Fixing Special Ed, Part 8:
‘Right of exit’ found key to
genuine special-ed progress

School-choice programs for special-needs kids:
Popular with parents, save states money

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, when American courts — citing the U.S. Constitution — began flogging states and ultimately the U.S. Congress in the direction of what became the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, such remedial action was profoundly needed and long overdue.

Today, however, IDEA is significantly behind the times and, as the different stories in this series have documented, struggling everywhere.

Unfortunately, the program’s problems are intrinsic, as a little reflection on the two main categories of the goods and services we use will show.

One set has, for years, been marked by regular and reliable improvements in price and quality. Many are high-tech goods, such as our smartphones. But others are just everyday necessities — on which we spend much less of our incomes than did our parents just a generation ago. Indeed, even the poor today own better shoes, clothes, motor vehicles and entertainment systems than did the middle class back then.

On the other hand, some other goods and services we all use seem either stuck in stasis or to actually decline in quality, while growing more expensive. These would include health insurance, education and many other basic government services.

What characterizes the first set of goods and services is that, in these sectors of the economy, we all have what is known as the “right of exit.” If you don't like a product or service you are free to decline it. No government-imposed monopoly or regulations have been able to block or kneecap potential competitors. Thus, all of us can follow our individual, personal, preferences.

Remarkably, it is this fact — that we all can follow our preferences — that makes these goods and services constantly improve.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 7:
Autism, dyslexia, societal changes
reveal a broken special-ed system

Foot-dragging school districts face
future of increasingly costly settlements

Once upon a time — say, back in 1975 — the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was, at least on paper, the very model of customized, personalized education.

Not only did it promise individualized public education for millions of children who until then had been barred from public schools, but it also appeared to give parents an explicit, legal voice in that education.

Nevertheless, today more and more parents of special-needs children are turning away from their local school district’s implementation of IDEA as they seek better solutions to their children’s learning needs.

Why is that?

Generally, it’s because millions of parents by now have had their own personal experiences with this too-frequently dysfunctional system, or, more fortunately, had already learned of others’ experiences. And this knowledge, in turn, has fueled the broad rise of an active desire — indeed, a market demand — for something different and more effective.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 6:
Special-ed has a fundamental problem: Government rigidity blocks innovation

Leaves school administrators stuck within
a system-corrupting dilemma: kids vs costs

When Congress in 1975 passed into law the legislation now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the bipartisan majorities were overwhelming.

In the U.S. Senate, the vote was 87 to 7. And in the House of Representatives, it was 404 to 7.

Nevertheless, the law, in truth, constituted only a first stab at solving a nationwide problem that had long bedeviled America’s conscience — namely, that public schools all across the country continued to routinely and thoughtlessly exclude handicapped kids.

What had happened by 1975, however, was that further dithering was no longer politically possible.

Federal courts were compelling states to address the issue, disabled children’s parents and advocates were becoming politically formidable, and everyone in Congress — especially following the seamy Watergate revelations of 1974 — was eager to appear before voters as high-minded and compassionate.

Yet the fact remained that the “Education for All Handicapped Children Act,” as the law was known at the time, was largely untested and experimental.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 5:
2001: CCSD, State of Nevada lose
precedent-setting Amanda J. case

Apparent shift in district's strategy follows:
Fight until jury trial looms, then settle with parents

One of the most startling revelations about how Clark County School District had been treating — or mistreating — special-needs families surfaced in 2001.

That was when a four-year-old lawsuit — accusing CCSD of denying appropriate education to a child years earlier — was finally decided by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case would set an important legal precedent.

By 2001, the girl at the center of the litigation — called “Amanda J.,” in the lawsuit — was 10 years old.

What was at issue, however, was what CCSD should have told her parents six years before.

Born in Las Vegas in 1991, Amanda at two years old had been found by a psychologist in to be “moderately low” in communication and daily living skills, and recommended for the District’s early childhood program.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 4:
CCSD asked for special-ed audit
then attempted to hide results

Revealed: Records tampering, state and
federal law violations, illegal IEP changes

Remarkably, LAUSD’s current Independent Monitor, Dr. David Rostetter, who figured prominently in Part Three of this series, also has had a significant history with Nevada — specifically, with the Clark County School District.

In the 1990s, CCSD retained Rostetter and another nationally credentialed educational consultant, Dr. Ed Sontag, to audit the district’s special-education program.

The background of that hire, according to the Las Vegas Sun’s then-assistant managing editor, Ken Ward, was that since 1991 at least the district had been receiving complaints from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) over CCSD’s instruction and transportation services for special-needs students.

Then, in October 1995, the OCR filed yet another complaint against the district, asserting five other serious issues, specifically:

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 3:
School systems have circumvented
federal special-ed law for decades

Los Angeles, Texas, New York exemplify styles of noncompliance

If you’ve ever doubted that special-needs families face grudging resistance and outright lawbreaking in America’s school districts, David Rostetter can quickly destroy any illusions you may have.

Since May 2003 Rostetter has headed federal supervision over the special-education program in America’s second-largest school district, Los Angeles United. Before that, he had a lengthy, high-level career in the federal administration and oversight of American special-education law.

Speaking to EducationWeek reporter John Tulenko in 2016, Rostetter acknowledged on the public record what many parents of special-needs children have long believed — that systemic flouting of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is conscious school-district policy in many locales across the U.S.

“I’ve had a lot of superintendents around the country,” Rostetter began. “I’ll go to them and say, ‘This is really bad over here. You know, it’s a budding lawsuit and it’s patently illegal.’

“And their answer will actually be, literally be, ‘I’ll deal with it when we get sued about it. Thanks for your advice, Dave.’”

PBS aired the full report on February 23, 2016. An MP3 recording and a transcript are online here.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 2:
New, higher special-ed costs
looming for State of Nevada

9th Circuit signals lack of patience with ploys
school districts have used to suppress costs

Today the effective legal standard for the education and services that Nevada public schools must provide special-needs children is significantly higher than it was just 11 months ago.

That’s because of the Supreme Court’s March 22, 2017 Endrew F. decision, followed — a mere five days later — by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the M.C. v. Antelope Valley Union High School District case.

The latter decision is especially significant for Nevada children because federal appeals out of Nevada go the 9th Circuit. And that court, in its M.C v. Antelope Valley ruling, demonstrated at least two things.

One is that the 9th will now be enforcing the new, higher, Endrew F. standard diligently — rather than tolerating, as has the Circuit at times previously, use of the de minimis approach that the Supremes struck down with Endrew F.

Another signal from the 9th, however, may be just as important.

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Fixing Special Ed, Part 1:
Supremes’ decision on special-ed
sets higher standards for care

Called ‘a recipe for financial disaster’ by
unhappy public-school administrator groups

If you’re the parent of a child with a disability, a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last March may have genuinely brightened your day.

Alternatively, if you’re a public-school administrator intent on maximizing school funding, your reaction could have been decidedly less positive.

March 22 was when America’s high court replaced an unquestionably low-rung legal standard for public schools’ education of special-needs children with a more demanding measure.

Parents and advocates for children with disabilities were ecstatic.

“I’m thrilled, because I think it really empowers parents to feel confident when they go in the door” to discuss their kids’ Individual Education Programs (IEPs) with school employees, said Amanda Morin.

Now, she said, parents can remind the school “that the law says that this program must be tailored so my child makes progress.”

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part 8: District's internal financial controls revealed as effectively nonexistent

In October 2013, the executive director of the administrators union for the Clark County School District was highly agitated over draft policy guidelines being offered for the school board’s review.

Although the guidelines seemed normal for government officials — requiring them to publicly disclose conflicts of interest — Stephen Augspurger nevertheless was saying he took great offense at the draft rules.

Augspurger, chief of the Clark County Association of School Administrators & Professional-Technical Employees, thought he saw within one draft insulting “insinuations” that one or more district administrators might be doing something improper.

“Specifically,” he told trustees, “if you go to section 12, in 6.04 and read through that language, I hope that you, as I, will take offense to what is being said there.”

Whereupon — standing before the district board of trustees — Augspurger continued through a remarkable seven-minute public diatribe [mp3 recording here] lambasting the most recent editor of the heavily marked-up draft, Trustee Erin Cranor.

Augspurger’s criticisms that day, if examined, appear to largely reflect his own preconceptions: For months the board had been making changes in its governance policies to allow stronger fiscal oversight of the district. Part Seven of this series reported that board activity in some detail.

But what was perhaps most remarkable was that the union chief also seemed to object in principle to any board effort to state clear policies against corrupt activity within the district.

Said Augsburger, referring to section 12 of that draft:

Because I think the insinuation there is [that] there is wrongdoing occurring in the Clark County School District. And I think the only logical outcome, by reading that paragraph, is that wrongdoing is being done by administrators.

I think that’s a disservice to the people that I represent.

Multiple years of hidden CCSD administrator corruption

As would soon become public information, however, corruption of significant scope had been ongoing for a minimum of seven years in at least one corner of the district’s central office.

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CCSD’s systemic problem and
its expensive consequences

Part Seven: When reforms make headway, The Empire Strikes Back

In late September 2013, CCSD Trustee Erin Cranor came across information indicating that she and fellow trustees had been misled regarding the actual costs of an insurance contract the district was expected to sign.

Rather than falling, those costs were to rise between $6 and $7 million.

Also, differing from earlier versions of the contract, the pending agreement now tripled the commission to be received by the district’s consulting insurance broker, Business Benefits, Inc.

Whereas BBI previously received a 0.75 percent commission on deals negotiated for the district with insurers, the new terms — of which BBI had not informed the district — would have kicked the commission up to 2.25 percent.

Moreover, because commissions under the new terms were, as before, tied to the total cost of CCSD insurance deals, BBI now had an even larger financial incentive to get the district signed to the most expensive insurance contracts possible.

Concerned, Cranor asked the legal counsel for CCSD’s board of trustees to review the new contract language.

The board attorney’s recommendation? For CCSD to end its broker-of-record relationship with BBI.

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