Public School Funding and Private Education
Can Public Schools Finance Quality Services for Your Child’s Special Needs?


This article will be further developed developed through 2009.   Thank you for your patience.

The last quarter of the twentieth century brought a revolution in this country’s approach to special education.  First the Massachusetts legislature  passed  “Chapter 766,” (actually a few years prior to the beginning of the last quarter), then the  federal government passed IDEA and subsequently The Americans with Disability Act (ADA), followed by enabling legislation in all fifty states.  This changed the concept of special help for students with special needs from a hit or miss opportunity that depended primarily upon local sensibilities to a system of entitlements. 

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FamilyLightsm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees. The only revenue at FamilyLightsm comes from client fees. 

Although school districts give parents notices of parental rights and/or similar documents, these tend to be written in language that makes them hard to use effectively.  In reality, school districts usually try to meet the letter of the law in making such documents available, but in all too many cases, really don’t want parents to understand their rights, for fear that if parents really understood these laws, the school districts would be unable to afford the cost of providing the services the parents would find their children are entitled to receive.  More about that later. 

Before we go any further, we need to be clear that this article is written by an educational consultant, not an attorney.  Our purpose here is to encourage people to think about the possibilities that result from this trend and to correct some misconceptions.  However we strongly recommend that families consult with legal counsel before taking action based upon their understanding of these laws. 

The impact of these laws is to “mandate” effective special education services in all school districts so that students with handicaps of various kinds can get their needs met, and to do so as close home as possible.  (We put “mandate” in quotation marks because very few school districts actually live up to the promise of these laws, unless forced to do so by legal intervention).  Like some legislation, these laws have unquestionably improved  educational opportunities for many of the children who are the intended beneficiaries.  They also have had unintended effects, some of which are good and some not.  One of the unintended effects is that legal framework created by these laws  does enable some parents to obtain public funding for private education for children who never intended to use public education or the special education system as it was intended.  However, much of the responsibility for that situation derives from the underfunding of mandated services by states and school districts.   More about that later.

The reader may choose how this article proceeds from here according to his or her own interest.  Please select one of the following:

Note to reader:  Each of these will become links with information relevant to the title. Each choice will create a separate article with the above as the beginning, the middle in the linked material and the ending on this page below the links. We hope to complete this by the end of 2009.

What your School District does not want you to know

Relationship between state and federal law.

Getting Special education services as intended

IEPs and 504 plans – What’s the difference? 

Misconceptions about special education

When your school district does not offer the service you need – Carter and Connors placements.

When services for an emotional or psychiatric handicap are Mental Health Responsibility by state law, not a school district responsibility -- California and Rhode Island residents take note.  

Special Education and Substance Abuse/Addiction

Special Education Advocacy and Legal Representation

Public school financing of a private placement

Collaboration Between School Districts -- BOCES and Intermediate Units – New York and Pennsylvania

The New York travesty

The New Jersey travesty

Conclusion for all readers:

Most school districts have avoided developing the services they would really need in order to serve the true needs of all of their students.  Special Education administrators are caught between political pressures to keep costs down and unfunded legal mandates from the state and federal governments, such as IDEA.  As a result, the special education administrators are forced to make compromises.  School districts that are choosing between purchasing textbooks or lowering class size to something less than 30 vs. paying huge charges for special education, in the face of taxpayer revolts, truly have a problem. 

Unfortunately, far too many school districts (in some cases under state mandate) are forced to limit their offerings to inadequate services, in some cases inadequate services from whom  people with good political connections are likely to profit.  See specific references to New York and New Jersey.

The result of that situation is that families with the stamina and money to advocate for themselves tend to be the only ones getting good service.  Unfortunately for the system, it is cheaper for states and school districts to limit the special education offerings within school districts  and “approved” contracted resources to those that will tend to separate students who may be disruptive and those that respond to well developed political constituencies, and what is needed to appear to be minimally compliant with the law.  They do this leaving themselves open to being sued for truly appropriate Carter and Connors placements, knowing that most parents with the resources to go that route will simply pay out of pocket and leave the school districts off the hook financially.

We would plead with all parents to pursue Carter and Connors placements if eligible and if they have the financial resources to do so. We believe that if every parent who has a right to a Carter or Connors placement were to pursue that, school districts would be forced to approve adequate out of district programs and seriously upgrade their district-operated services.  We mean that if every eligible family pursued Carter and Connors, the school districts would be making adequate services available as an economy move. 

We welcome comments.  Address your comments to

Last updated 8-06-09


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