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