A strong and trusting partnership between parents, the state education agency, nonpublic special education programs, public charter schools, and the community at large is essential to the success of District of Columbia students with disabilities. The foundation of such a partnership should include:
- Adequate funding of programs so that the individual needs of students with disabilities can be met in accordance with each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- Appreciation for the diversity of needswithin the student population and therefore the great diversity of educational programming that must be available to meet these needs. Recognition of the diversity of services that currently exist in nonpublic and charter schools to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
- Access to special supplementary services to provide and ensure optimal academic success in a population with complex educational, physical, and psychological needs.
- Transparency in all financial transactions between those providing services to special education students and the governmental agencies providing funding for these services. Financial accountability and cost management on the part of all parties to achieve mutually agreed upon financial planning, budgeting, rate-setting, and record-keeping.
- Cooperation and collaboration to develop and maintain mutual support and collaboration between the nonpublic and charter schools and the state education agency.
A brief elaboration follows:
Nonpublic and public charter schools must receive adequate funding to address the individual IEP goals of each student. Students cannot be placed into a “one size fits all” program scheme. The federal mandate for equal education, passed by Congress over 30 years ago, requires that state education agencies provide: parent and teacher consultation for IEP planning; competent staff that are compensated fairly and supported to do their jobs; facilities that are safe and nurturing; and, sufficient materials and sophisticated technology to ensure success.
To negotiate equitable rates of payment for tuition and ancillary services, all stakeholders must share information regarding the changes and differences in regional service costs as a means of establishing fair payment criteria.
Diversity of Programming
Students with special needs are a diverse group that cannot be reduced to a single entity. Their needs are as different as apples and oranges; the nonpublic, charter, and public programs that serve them must reflect these differences. All parties must resist the urge to stereotype students or the programs that will meet their unique needs.
Continuum of Special Education Services
A collaborative network of public and nonpublic special education programs will enable DCPS students to succeed. There is no avoiding the fact that students with more complex and serious disabilities will require a higher level of care and a higher level of funding. A continuum of public and nonpublic programs is not at odds with including students in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE); rather a seamless progression of nonpublic and public programs enables students with special needs to move toward inclusion and integration, both in school and in the community.
There should be no hidden expenses when taxpayers’ dollars are spent on special education. Both schools and government agencies should be committed to clarifying and documenting all their costs and payments, making them part of a public record that can withstand public scrutiny. Fiscal transparency will support open and honest relationships, collaboration, and trust.
Partnership demands that all stakeholders develop the capacity to understand the compelling and conflicting needs of public agencies, private providers, parents, and the public. For example, the public and public agencies have a strong interest in containing governmental spending; at the same time the public and parents of children with special needs are equally committed to caring for the community’s most vulnerable children, students with disabilities. Cooperation, trust, and open dialogue can resolve these competing mandates.