What I Never Knew I Never Knew

Something was said to me over Thanksgiving weekend that reminded me of things I’ve learned since the diagnosis that I’d never realized before it.

While we were settled on the couch to watch Thanksgiving football, one of my BiL’s and I were talking about the Monster’s new school, and some of the trials and tribulations that go on with the advisory board I’m on, and how the two collide in interesting ways.  Specifically, the schools here in Baltimore are currently in a tussle with some of the charter schools over funding, and one of the points in contention is the amount that’s set aside from the budget for “non-public placement” (ie, where the Monster is now).

Baltimore City school’s budget is $1.2 billion dollars for SY 2015-2016.  $48+ million is dedicated for non-public placement, which, as one speaker at PCAB pointed out, is a lot of money for the number of students there.  (The quoted number was approximately $100k per student, which I have to imagine includes legal costs, evaluations, supervisory overhead and the like, knowing what private-placement tuition costs at Gateway.  This is exclusive of $212 million for in-system special education, and another $37 million for all transportation, including IEP transport.)  But even so, it is a private school where the Monster goes, and so we were talking… and he commented on how much, even with subsidies, the school must cost…

Wait… subsidies?

I’ll be honest – before we’d heard of non-public placement, I’d had no idea what schools did for children with significant enough needs that the school system couldn’t help them.  Personally, I’d assumed that at some point, the school threw up its hands and said, “This is all we can offer you,” and parents had to find their own way beyond that point.  I do know families that have reached that point, where the schools have told them that their child is not sufficiently disabled to be beyond what the schools can do, or that their child is making sufficient progress in the public environment, and they’ve decided to pull their child and go it alone.  That’s when it gets expensive… and as much as I might want the Monster back in a public environment with his typically-performing peers, that’s just not what’s right for him.  The public school environment is more of a detriment to him than an aid.

Learning about FAPE – that a child has a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education – and that it’s the school’s problem to pay for a child’s education at an appropriate educational institution if they cannot offer what the child needs was a revelation to us… and perhaps should be spoken about more openly so that others understand that it exists, why it exists, and how it benefits all children.  I’ll probably write a lot more of this in the coming months, especially as things come to a head here with the local funding issues, but I think that we need to realize as a community on some level that there’s always a cost associated with every decision…

And it is that first point, the “free” part, which is what is most important to emphasize to a parent of a newly-diagnosed child.  Every child is entitled to an appropriate education, independent of the ability to pay, and we should do more to make sure that parents who are despairing about the options for their child to be educated know that it needn’t impoverish them to get their child the help they need.

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