School Choice, But Only for the Most Irritating Parents

A while back, I wrote about wealthy, legally savvy parents exploiting disabled-education funds to get their high achieving kids into private schools, paid for by the state.  Apparently we can't get $6000 vouchers, but this is legally OK, if you are persistent enough in gaming the system:

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an
out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition,
but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new
clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits.
Total tab: $67,949....

Here is the mom, in this case, explaining her son's "disability" which justified this largess

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother
said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out
of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing
records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and
highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and
enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were
so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of
frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

Well, the good news, I hope, is that the Supreme Court is set to review this kind of legal abuse of the ADA and other disable rights legislation:

the Supreme Court has accepted for review a case in which, according to
the New York Times's account, a former chief executive of Viacom did
not even give a public school program a try before enrolling his son in
a private school and demanding that New York City pick up much of the
resulting bill. The New York Times's account is distinctly
unsympathetic toward the parent, and quotes Julie Wright Halbert,
legislative counsel for the Council of the Great City Schools, as
saying: "Many wealthy, well-educated people are gaming the system in
New York City and around the country."

Let's have school choice for everyone, not just for the well-connected, legally savvy, or downright irritating.


  1. Rob:

    I wonder if the only reason the NYTimes is against this abuse is because it's a wealthy family... or if they would hold the same grudge against a poor baby-ridden welfare mom doing the same thing?

  2. Phil:

    OT: Coyote, as a geek and a business owner, do you have ANY idea how RadioShack remains financially solvent? I just read this Onion article: and it got me thinking about how a pseudo-geeky place like Radioshack remains in business and profitable. I do not think selling amateur electronics equipment has been a very big business since at least the '80s. What is keeping these guys afloat?

  3. markm:

    The way public schools are run, being too smart can be classified as a disability - it causes all sorts of trouble in the classroom!

  4. Liz Ditz:

    That bastion of raving liberalism, the Hoover Institution, disagrees with this view that special education is sucking precious funds away from school districts.

    Can spiraling special education costs explain why educational achievement remained stagnant over the past three decades while real education spending more than doubled? Policy makers, education researchers, and school district officials often make this claim. Special education students—goes the argument—are draining resources away from regular education students.

    A popular riff on the idea that special education students are bleeding public school budgets blames private place ments. A large number of mostly undeserving disabled students and their clever parents, critics allege, have managed to get public schools to pay for attendance at expensive private schools. Tales of the “greedy needy”—disabled students who receive unreasonably expensive services—appear regularly in the media. The San Francisco Chronicle describes the case of a student with learning disabilities and an anxiety disorder whose parents “enrolled him in a $30,000-a-year prep school in Maine—then sent the bill to their local public school district.” The Chronicle declares that similar situations are “playing out up and down California as more parents of special education students seek extra-special education at public expense: private day schools, boarding schools, summer camps, aqua therapy, horseback therapy, travel costs, personal aides and more.” The Chronicle cites a school finance consultant to the California Department of Education to make the harm to general education parents clear: “This is not sustainable... Special education is a growing portion of budgets in many districts, squeezing out services for other pupils.”

    Time magazine relates a story about an autistic child whose parents put him in an expensive private school and then “informed Colorado’s Thompson school district it had to pick up the bill for Boston Higashi’s $135,000 annual tuition.” Time warns, “Special ed costs threaten to eat into budgets for school endeavors that are not federally mandated, like athletics or the gifted-and-talented program. The money has to come from somewhere, says Becky Jay, who was president of the local school board when the [family] first asked for tuition reimbursement, ‘and regular kids lose out.’”

    The New York Times does a similar dance routine. The paper profiles a wealthy community—Westport, Connecticut—where “some [special education students] are getting as little as a few hours of weekly speech therapy. Others get tuition for private school or home tutoring.” The superintendent, we are told, has held the line on special education services: “His administration has denied many special education requests—horseback riding and personal trainers, for instance—that it deemed extravagant.” Again, we are warned that runaway special education costs pose a threat: “The strain on the bottom line can be intense, even in Westport, where in the 2002–03 school year the $10.9 million spent on special education consumed 15.9 percent of the district’s education spending.”

    It’s a two-step. First, provide colorful anecdotes of unreasonably expensive-sounding private placement, and then warn about how general education may suffer.

    As it turns out, the evidence contradicts the private placement myth. Only a very small fraction of disabled students are placed in private schools at public expense. And contrary to claims that this is increasingly common, the likelihood that disabled students will be placed in a private school has not grown in the last 15 years. While some of those private placements are indeed expensive, the overall cost of private placement nationwide constitutes a tiny portion of public school spending.

    The rest of the article deals with the facts.