December 14, 2010

National Publication Looks at Special-Needs Scofflaws

In the current issue of School Reform News, Ben Boychuk reports on the Tulsa-area school districts which are disobeying a new state law providing scholarships for special-needs students.
“It appears the school boards are trying to bait parents into suing them, which will probably happen,” said Brandon Dutcher, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. [Hey, someone should make a movie about that.]

“Since the constitution trumps a mere statute, they claim to be duty-bound to disobey the statute,” Dutcher explained. “At least one recent poll finds Oklahomans, by a margin of better than two to one, disagree with that approach.”
Even foes of the law expressed disbelief at the boards’ noncompliance.

“I can think of no precedent for it in over 40 years of practicing law,” said Bill Wilkinson, a Tulsa attorney and former commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Mr. Wilkinson is quoted in the article as saying the law places financial burdens on school districts and is open to abuse, but
Dutcher says concerns about parents abusing the special-ed vouchers are overblown. Instead, districts may be responding to financial incentives, he said.

“Broken Arrow Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said, ‘It’s not about the money,’ and since education bureaucrats are famously indifferent when it comes to money I see no reason to doubt him,” Dutcher said. “Except he also said his district isn’t complying because ‘We don’t have enough money to fund what we do now.’ So, yes, I would say it has to do with money.”

Mendenhall’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

“I try not to chuckle when public-school boosters say they’re worried about waste, fraud, and abuse,” he said. “Especially after all these years of the special-ed bounty system—labeling kids ‘disabled’ who aren’t disabled, permanently altering the course of their lives, just so [the district] can get extra money for the government schools. Now they can’t bear to let any child ‘escape.’”

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