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Betsy DeVos Responds to Senator Patty Murray’s Question about SPED and Private Schools

February 4, 2017

I have been reading Michigan billionaire school choice champ and US ed sec nominee Betsy DeVos’ written responses to the 139 follow-up questions asked by Senate Health, Education, Labor and pensions (HELP) Committee member, Patty Murray.

Below is Murray’s question 104. It concerns any DeVos support for holding private schools that receive public money to the standard of also serving special needs students:

Have you ever supported efforts to require private schools that receive public funding provide the same rights and protections that traditional public schools must offer to the parents of children with disabilities? Yes or no. If yes, please describe the effort, including specific dates, details, and your personal involvement.

And DeVos’ response:

No educational program, public or private, is ideal for all students, especially students with disabilities. Even today, there are public school districts that do not have the services to meet the needs of all students with disabilities and suggest to those parents that they should enroll their students in nearby charter schools or the district arranges to have those students go to another district to have their needs met. So, let’s be honest. No individual public school provides the full range of high quality services for every student with a disability; this is true for private schools as well.

Public school systems have the right to establish specialized programs in schools for students with specific disabilities and, through the IEP process, to assign students with specific disabilities to these schools in order to meet their needs more effectively. When this occurs, the public schools that do not offer these services within the system are not “discriminating” against the students with these disabilities.

In far too many cases, the parents of students with disabilities in public schools are currently not satisfied with the services their children are receiving. In fact, public schools contract out education services for almost 2% of students with special needs to ensure they receive their education in private schools where the student’s educational needs are better met. But too often the only way that parents can obtain what is best for their child is through legal recourse. This can take months and sometimes years. Children don’t have years to wait for courts to decide. I believe they should not have to wait.

Offering parents of students with disabilities the opportunity to choose between a private school, a different public school, or a non-public school setting empowers the parents to receive what works best for their child. Just like in the public schools, not every private school will offer every service for every student with a disability. It would be misguided to seek to impose upon individual private schools a standard that is not also imposed on every individual public school. If parents are not satisfied with the private options available, they maintain all of their current rights and options within their local public school system.

In short, DeVos skirts Murray’s question. She does not respond to the idea of supporting efforts to require that private schools that receive public funding provide the same rights and protections that traditional public schools must offer to the parents of children with disabilities.

Instead, she focuses on the fact that some public schools must outsource. But the point is that the school system must shoulder the expense of outsourcing if it cannot offer the service in-house.

The public school cannot choose to offer no option and turn the student away, case closed, as can the private school. The public school cannot ignore the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandate of offering a “free and appropriate education.”

From the website:

Recipients operating federally funded programs must provide education and related services free of charge to students with disabilities and their parents or guardians. Provision of a free education is the provision of education and related services without cost to the person with a disability or his or her parents or guardians, except for fees equally imposed on nondisabled persons or their parents or guardians.

If a recipient is unable to provide a free appropriate public education itself, the recipient may place a person with a disability in, or refer such person to, a program other than the one it operates.

However, the recipient remains responsible for ensuring that the education offered is an appropriate education, as defined in the law, and for coverage of financial obligations associated with the placement.

The cost of the program may include tuition and other related services, such as room and board, psychological and medical services necessary for diagnostic and evaluative purposes, and adequate transportation. Funds available from any public or private source, including insurers,4 may be used by the recipient to meet the requirements of FAPE.

If a student is placed in a private school because a school district cannot provide an appropriate program, the financial obligations for this placement are the responsibility of the school district. However, if a school district makes available a free appropriate public education and the student’s parents or guardian choose to place the child in a private school, the school district is not required to pay for the student’s education in the private school. If a recipient school district places a student with a disability in a program that requires the student to be away from home, the recipient is responsible for the cost of room and board and nonmedical care.

And now, a flashback to DeVos:

It would be misguided to seek to impose upon individual private schools a standard that is not also imposed on every individual public school.

DeVos only states as much because she misunderstands (or misshapes) the federally-established reality of the public school fiscal responsibility for FAPE. Even so, she has no intention of requiring private schools that accept public funding via vouchers to also agree to be held to FAPE.

As DeVos notes in her final sentence, the public school system is the default, the FAPE-catch-all, for “private options” that somehow fall short:

If parents are not satisfied with the private options available, they maintain all of their current rights and options within their local public school system.

And let me add one more observation regarding DeVos’ response:

I have never heard of a traditional public school sending a parent to a charter school in order to receive special education services not offered by the traditional public school.

I have heard of a charter school faking a SPED classroom in order to pass a state site visit.

In this response to Murray’s question as in others, DeVos is more a friend to private schools– and to sending them FAPE-free public money.

betsy-devos-11  Betsy DeVos


Released July 2016– Book Three:

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of both A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

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  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Hope you saw or can retrieve Rachael Maddow’s amazing coverage of Devos Friday night. , jammed Congressional phones, Devos company selling unauthorized ADHA products/services at $2000, gofundme, opportunity for even more weekend protests because Republicans are in Florida meeting funders.

  2. confused permalink

    I am terrified of what is going to happen to public education over the next 4 years considering how much destruction has already occurred here in Louisiana! What I have read about Neurocore is like the skin sensor trash from many years ago. Parents want their special needs child to succeed and combining charter schools with no oversight with unscientific “brain” training should be setting off alarm bells, but with a leader in the department of education who supports this, national leadership who believes in “alternative facts” and voters, who according to DeGrasse- Tyson “lack scientific literacy” we will instead have a public education system built on “Scientific Lunacy” !!! I can see the possibility in the future of science teachers who actually try and teach research based science in Louisiana being fired for doing so.

  3. Jack Covey permalink

    Devos —- or more likely one of her staff who wrote this — totally ducked the question.

    Devos’ response: (my paraphrasing … i.e. “STFU” 😉 )

    “Not every public school currently provides — or can provide — for the needs of EVERY disability. This forces that school — a school which may at the same provide for other special ed categories different from the child who is in need — to recommend a nearby traditional public school that does have a teacher / facilities that does provide such services, or, in a small minority of cases, the solution may involve sending that child to a private service provider.

    “So that makes those traditional public schools exactly like tax-funded, privately managed charter schools WHICH HAVE NEVER — AND WILL NEVER — PROVIDE FOR ANY SPECIAL ED. SERVICES FOR ANY SPECIAL ED. CHILD EVER.

    “Why they’re exactly the same, don’t you know! They both refuse special ed. kids, who then have to go elsewhere, so STFU about requiring privately managed charter schools that are funded by taxes — the vast majority of which have never or will never provide for special ed kids — to provide for the needs of special ed. students.”

    That’s total nonsense, of course.

    The difference is when the charter school refuses to provide for that child and turns him/her away, THEY DON’T HAVE TO SHOULDER THAT COST OF EDUCATING THAT CHILD THAT WILL TAKE PLACE ELSEWHERE, and special ed services can be very expensive — smaller ratios, sometimes 1-on-1 for the most severe, teachers with extensive education and training, facilities for kids with physical disablities..

    The traditional public school who sends a child to a nearby traditional public school, however, MUST take on the cost of that meeting that special ed. child’s needs, and pay for this out of its budget, not the nearby school who takes on that burden. The same goes when the special ed. child goes to a private provider to have his/her needs met.

    That leaves less money for the traditional public school to educate all of its students, and more money for the privately managed charter school. If both traditional public schools and private charters were on a level playing field — they both had to take on the cost of education a special ed student’s education … either on that school’s premises, or pay for it to take place elsehwere — that would disincentize profiteers from getting into the charter school racket.

    Take charter guru Eva Moskowitz of SUCCESS ACADEMY charter school chain, for example. (Eva has written two op-ed’s backing Devos’ confirmation … big surprise.)

    Based on prior comments to the press, some of the folks at SUCCESS ACADEMY don’t even believe in the concept of “disability,” or that there is such a category known as “special ed,”. Nor do they believe in bringing in specialists, or in implementing IEP’s.

    Indeed Eva has sometimes even said as much, expressing her belief that such innate deficiencies may exist, but she doesn’t deign to take those unfortunates on … dumping them back into the public schools for those folks to handle.

    This, in turn, places heavy financial and manpower demand on those public schools, as special ed. kids require highly-trained, highly paid special ed. teacher, a small class size or student-to-teacher ratio, etc. … and of course, lower test scores that prompts Eva to blather, “We’re putting the public schools to shame with our scores.” … because all the low scorers from Eva’s schools have been systematically purged..

    Essentially, Eva, Betsy Deos and the charter school industry view children in general as commodities… valued on two criteria:

    1) cheapest to educate — no expensive special ed kids draining your budget


    2) potential for high test scores — again, the special ed kids are unable to deliver those.

    According to one SUCCESS ACADEMY staffer, Eva responds to kids who possess any low-test-score-causing handicap, including those based on disability with the following comment:

    “SUCCESS ACADEMY is not a Social Services agency.”

    SUCCESS ACADEMY’s former leader Paul Fucaloro is on the same page with both recently-departed Secretary of Ed. Arne Duncan. To both of them, there’s no such thing as “special ed.” In her opinion — as expressed by one of her top administrators (JUST BELOW) — is that what the traditional school approach categorizes as “special ed,” is nothing more than a lack of “maturity” as a result of “mama” failing to her her job. Those whose fail to “mature” — or have the effects of poor parenting reversed — under Eva’s system are kicked out… err… “counseled out.”

    This is from PAGE 5 of the 2010 NEW YORK MAGAZINE story on Eva and her schools:

    “At Harlem Success, disability is a dirty word.

    ” ‘I’m not a big believer in special ed,’ (SUCCESS ACADEMY’s instructional leader Paul) Fucaloro says. For children who arrive with individualized education programs, or IEPs, he goes on, the real issues are ‘maturity and undoing what the parents allow the kids to do in the house—usually mama—and I reverse that right away.’

    “When remediation falls short, according to sources in and around the network, families are counseled out. ‘Eva told us that “the school is not a social-service agency,” ‘ says the Harlem Success teacher. ‘That was an actual quote.’

    “In one case, says a teacher at P.S. 241, a set of twins started kindergarten at the co-located HSA 4 last fall. One of them proved difficult and was placed on a part-time schedule, ‘so the mom took both of them out and put them in our school. She has since put the calm sister twin back in Harlem Success, but they wouldn’t take the boy back. We have the harder, troubled one; they have the easier one.’

    “Such triage is business as usual, says the former network staffer, when the schools are vexed by behavioral problems:

    ” ‘They don’t provide the counseling these kids need.’ If students are deemed bad ‘fits’ and their parents refuse to move them, the staffer says, the administration ‘makes it a nightmare’ with repeated suspensions and midday summonses.

    “After a 5-year-old was suspended for two days for allegedly running out of the building, the child’s mother says the school began calling her every day ‘saying he’s doing this, he’s doing that. Maybe they’re just trying to get rid of me and my child, but I’m not going to give them that satisfaction.’ ”

    “At her school alone, the Harlem Success teacher says, at least half a dozen lower-grade children who were eligible for IEPs have been withdrawn this school year. If this account were to reflect a pattern, Moskowitz’s network would be effectively winnowing students before third grade, the year state testing begins.

    ” ‘The easiest and fastest way to improve your test scores,’ observes a DoE principal in Brooklyn, ‘is to get higher-performing students into your school.’ And to get the lower-performing students out.”

    However, Eva must put SOME credence in a special ed. disability diagnoses. Indeed, whenever any parent of a diagnosed special ed. child (i.e. one who has an I.E.P. — Indivudualized Education Plan for a special ed. child) shows up at her door — after winning the Success Academy lottery — Eva or one of her underlings turns away both the parent and child.

    “We can’t accommodate your child.” or in other words, “Get lost!”

    For example, this video from a parent describing such an experience is telling:

    JAYE BEA SMALLEY: “My name is Jaye Bea Smalley. I’m a parent, yes. I have two children with special needs. I have one child who I applied to the Harlem Success Academy through the lottery process to see if she could be… would be accepted.

    “When she WAS accepted through the lottery, I reached out to them (Harlem Success Academy) before I attended any sort of a orientation to see if they would be able to accommodate her I.E.P. She has a 12-to-1-to-1 I.E.P. for a year-round program, with four different related services.

    “They didn’t respond to me through email at all.. and finally, after the second meeting had come, I called them —- I had a very difficult time getting through to them —- Before I could get the words ’12-to-1-to-1′ out of my mouth, they immediately told me that they would absolutely not be able to accommodate that sort of child in their school.”

  4. Mel greenspan permalink

    You go Mercedes and Diane nominate me

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: What Betsy DeVos Told the Senators about Special Education | Diane Ravitch's blog

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