Thursday, July 12, 2007

On the GSNS

This isn't an argument about sincere ideological or philosophical support or opposition to whether or not parents should have expanded school choice options or be given taxpayer-funded vouchers. There is little to be done that can sway someone from such firm convictions, which is fine.

Instead, my concern is with some of the numbers being used regarding the newly approved Georgia Special Needs Scholarship fund, which was pushed through the Georgia General Assembly by Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah). Johnson and the supporters of the scholarship argue that this voucher will open up new doors to parents of children who have behaviorial issues or special needs.

The premise is that a general number is selected - $9,000 - and that is the approximate amount of money the state government spends on each pupil in Georgia to educate them in the public school systems. Using this number, the state is then able to divert those funds into a general scholarship program where parents can apply for assistance in sending their children to a private school.

The Gwinnett Daily Post has a story on some of the schools in their coverage area that have applied to the state to be eligible for the scholarship money.

A while back Jason Pye was kind enough to respond to some of my criticisms and concerns at Peach Pundit during an earlier discussion, and he went as far as offer a link to a Cato Institute study on the cost of private schools. That study contends that private schools, on the average, feature tuitions of $5,000 to $6,000, which is proof they are producing equally educated - if not better educated - students for less money.

I don't necessarily dispute the actual numbers, but I do think such comparisons are unfair for a variety of reasons.

Public education systems are required to take all children - regardless of their socioeconomic status, the condition of their families, their learning, emotional or physical disabilities or their ability to comprehend and understand the English language. There is no litmus test for a child to attend a public school. There is no admission process. It truly is a place where everyone is given the opportunity to obtain an education.

Private schools are not required to admit such a wide range of children, and that's perfectly fine. I would never dream of infringing on their right to develop their own criteria for admission or the focus of their curriculum or on the size of their classes. I support the freedom of private schools to tailor their curriculum and their programming to suit their students.

However, knowing that public education is required to offer such a wide range of services to its diverse population, it's understandable that it costs more to provide a variety of educational services. Many private schools, with fewer faculty, less services for special-needs children and smaller class sizes, don't incur the same costs that public schools do.

And those that do often actually have considerably higher tuitions.

Consider this list of private schools from across the state:

Atlanta Girls Academy - $15,830 per year
Atlanta New Century - $8,950-$9,500
Augusta Christian - $5,000-$9,940
Augusta Prep - $8,430-$10,810
Brandon Hall - $23,390-$25,900
Brenau - $9,825-$22,575
Darlington - $13,900 ($31,300 for boarding)
Frederica Academy - $8,100-$12,000
Greater Atlanta Christian - $11,080
The Heritage School - $5,860-$11,095
Lakeview Academy - $9,350-$12,900
The Lovett School - $14,560-$17,360
Marist - $13,250
Mount Vernon - $5,500-$12,900
Paideia - $8,955-$15,984
Tallulah Falls - $8,000
Trinity K-6 - $10,440-$15,300
Walker - $8,020-$14,350
Wesleyan - $13,190-$15,215

The full list of GSNS schools comes out tomorrow, and some of the above schools may not be listed. But the following in Gwinnett County were listed according to The Gwinnett Daily Post:

Branch Christian Community School - $5,000-$6,000
Hopewell Christian Academy - $6,175
Notre Dame Academy - $8,120
Perimeter Christian School - $6,000-$7,000
St. John Neumann Catholic - $7,200 (non-Catholic)
Special Needs Schools of Gwinnett County - $6,500

Also, take a look at this list of private school tuition in the Atlanta area and, in particular, note the high tuition rates for schools which exclusively focus on children with special needs.

Schools such as Athens Christian, which offer tuition rates between $4,000 and $4,500 are financially able to do so because they don't offer the similar resources or teacher support for things like special-needs education. If they desired to reach out to more students and increase the number of special-needs children they took care of, it would surely force them to raise their tuition rates.

Furthermore, many of the private schools that are in the tuition range of $2,000 to $6,000 are often understaffed, feature caps on enrollment per class, lack up-to-date resources and technologies, feature a more narrowly defined curriculum and don't offer adequate programming or services for special-needs students (granted, this is a blanket assertion on my part, so I concede it won't be true in all cases). It's these schools which dramatically bring down the average per pupil spent in private education.

Now, please don't take this to be a condemnation of private schools as this is far from it. As I noted earlier, I think private schools are important instutitions which serve a vital role in our educational system. I attended a private school in elementary school before moving onto public schools, and I have several friends and children of friends who attended or taught at private schools.

I may be a good Democrat, but I'm no ideologue. While I have serious reservations and considerable criticisms about any possible move toward a voucher system, I also enter any discussion with an open mind. Like we all should be, I ultimately want students to excel, and whatever system offers them the best opportunity to do just that is what I will support. I am not, as of now, convinced that a system of vouchers is the way to achieve that.

Furthermore, the other part that troubles me about this thing is that Johnson worked to sell this as something where parents of special needs children would get their allocation back. But if you notice in the article by The Gwinnett Daily Post, Dale Dempsey from Snellville said the scholarship calculator told him he would be eligible for $5,600 to put toward tuition for his son. Dempsey concedes this will cover just 60 percent of the tuition of the school he wants to send his child to.

Now Dempsey may be comfortable enough to cover that difference, or perhaps he can find additional financial assistance, but what of the others who are unable to do so? And what of the talk of them receiving the $9,000 that Johnson said was owed to them?

Something doesn't appear to add up for me here.


Blogger Rich said...

What annoys me about this setup is this line:

To be eligible, a student must have spent the previous year at a public school in Georgia and have in place an Individualized Education Program written by that school.

That sounds to me like a pretty major investment of time that public schools are being required to perform on behalf of students who are going to then leave those schools.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous StoptheBS said...

To be eligible, a student must have spent the previous year at a public school in Georgia and have in place an Individualized Education Program written by that school.

There's really no need to be annoyed because that's what the schools have to do for each special ed. student anyway. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

One of the fears expressed during the debate on this bill was that parents would "create" disabilities for their children to make them eligible for the scholarships. This provision makes the public schools the threshold for getting the scholarship. The IEP is (supposed to be) an involved document which includes all the student's teachers, the parents, and objective test scores or diagnosis of the disability. It also includes the accommodations which must be made for the student, some of which are incredibly expensive (communication devices, interpreters,aides) . There is considerable effort given to "mainstreaming' special ed students, and this is written into the IEP. One just has to wonder how many private schools are set up to implement this provision of the IEP.

10:30 AM  
Blogger daledempsey said...

I am the Dale your talking about. I also wonder where the money went. When you look at the thousands of dollars that the public school gets because my child is EBD and the $5600 thee child gets to go to a private school, you have to say hhhhmmmmm. Well, I don't know that answer, yet. But, there are hundreds of parents now trying to follow the money and find out where it went.

So isn't the real question why are we here and how did we get here? Well for those of you that have never attended an IEP meeting the public school world, for special needs is completely different than the world of an average student.

After hear form thousands of parents of the past three years and finding that my experiences were basically the same as theirs. The schools try everything to avoid the cost of helping the special needs child, even though they get millions per year to do it. To lower cost they make every effort to group students and even wharehouse them if possible. They don't provide the services that are garenteed under federal law, because of the cost.

So what happens to the money? Well thats the real problem. Basically, any money that was set aside for the special needs student and not spent on that child can then be spent on anything, as part of the schools budget.

Thats why so many parents are mad. The schools don't follow the laws, unless they can make a profit. The last thing that is actually considered is the student.

Did you know that the law specifically says that every special needs student has a right to:

1). Attend their neighborhood school, which is defined as the school closest to their home.

2). Each special needs student has a right to be educated in a regular education class and can only be removed after the resources have be used in the class.

So what do the schools do. They do not provide the services in the reg ed class. They pull the child. Then they try to force the children in one central location and their standards are without question, sub standard to even the reg ed classes.

Imagine, the schools use to do this based on color and sex. We called it segration. For many years now they still do it to the children that least need it. Let the be no question, that the special needs program in Ga is the button of the bucket when it comes to education.

So why is there an Special Needs scholarship? The most vunerable students in this state are getting the least education of any students, but the state gets millions to help them and uses the money else where.

Just my thoughts.

8:31 PM  

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