Heads You Win, Tails You Still Win

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to testify to the Senate Education committee in Texas today on the experience with parental choice programs for special needs children. One of the items of discussion was the following chart:

McKay Texas 1This phenomenon is often discussed regarding special education, but seldom quantified. In 2004 however officials from Education Service Center 20 (a regional body roughly covering school districts in the San Antonio area) provided the following chart to quantify the additional cost per special education student in a number of school districts. There were costs above and beyond those covered by state funding, and thus represented in effect a transfer from district general funds into special education funds on a per special education student basis.


Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby also testified to this interim committee in 2004, and she made the point that since school districts have been complaining that states don’t cover the full costs of special education for decades, that they have no cause to complain about students leaving with their (inadequate) funding. Districts can either keep these funds in the general education effort, or spend more on their remaining special education students (approximately 5% of Florida special education students directly utilize McKay but far more benefit from it) but either way they benefit.



6 Responses to Heads You Win, Tails You Still Win

  1. Hey… that chart is 8 years old. Any idea what it would look like today.

  2. matthewladner says:

    This sort of data doesn’t get quantified very often.

  3. I don’t believe these cost numbers. I don’t believe them because schools are particularly bad at understanding the idea of “cost,” which is different than expenditure. I believe they spend this amount on students with disabilities, but they would have many of those expenses whether students were classified as disabled or not. Costs for special education should only include expenditures that they would not have otherwise made for that student if that student had not been classified as disabled.

    This point can be illustrated by thinking about students who are behind in reading. If students are behind in reading but they do not have a disability, schools tend to try to catch those students up by giving them more intensive reading instruction in smaller groups. If students who are struggling with reading are classified as disabled, the intervention is basically the same and there is little cost beyond what they would have been doing for those students anyway.

    This is why special education is usually profitable for school districts. They get extra money from the state (and feds) for doing many things for students that they would have been doing anyway. The proof of this is that school districts behave as if special education is profitable by fighting hard to retain students when special ed vouchers are offered. If special ed were such a horrible financial burden, school districts should be thrilled about all of the money they are saving by having students leave with special ed vouchers. Hoxby’s testimony was just calling their bluff.

    For more on this see http://educationnext.org/the-case-for-special-education-vouchers/ and http://educationnext.org/debunking-a-special-education-myth/ and http://www.uark.edu/ua/der/People/Greene/EEP_Public_School_Response_Special_Ed_Vouchers.pdf

  4. matthewladner says:

    So Jay I think that you agree that school district officials have been arguing that special education funding is inadequate for decades, and that if the world works as they claim that they should support McKay.

    You however seem to making the additional argument that the world does not work the way they claim, and thus that thus they actually do oppose McKay (?)

    • I think I’m agreeing with you (and Hoxby) that public school officials make no sense on special ed finances. Either it really is a horrible financial burden on them, as they repeatedly say, and which I do not really believe. If that’s the case they should be for special ed vouchers, which they tend not to be. Or special ed funding is (in aggregate) actually more than fair, in which case they should stop complaining about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: