In an opinion piece in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Professors John Witte and Patrick Wolf, researchers associated with the privately-funded School Choice Demonstration Project based at the University of Arkansas, made a curious claim. If you care to read the article, you can find it at this link.
Here's the claim that most concerns me: "Public schools have both strong incentives to classify students as requiring special education, because they receive extra funding to teach such students and well established protocols to do so."
Really? Can they honestly believe that?
The implication is that within public school districts there is somehow a profit to be made by having an increased number of students with disabilities.
That is simply not correct.
The fact is this: Due to low and declining levels of reimbursement from the federal and state levels, the costs associated with providing needed services to students with disabilities far outpace any so-called "extra funding". In the 2009-10 school year, using the most conservative method of calculating special education funding, Milwaukee Public Schools incurred unreimbursed special education costs of $42.2 million.
Whatever the merits of the Arkansas group's research might be, it takes little investigation to determine that a loss of $42.2 million cannot be described as a "strong incentive".
With all the loud rhetoric and confusion about funding for public education, it does not help to have opinions such as this one added to the dialogue. Don't be fooled. Look for the facts.
As for MPS' special education students, who now make up almost 20% of our school population, we will continue to do our best to provide the educational services and supports that they need.