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Rich Parents Get All The Breaks: Educating the Autistic

Can Mitt Romney Provide Better Education To Autistic Children?

Is it easier for rich parents to get autism therapy for children?

Special needs education got a look at life under Mitt Romney last week when he released his current stand on education reform.

Under his proposal, children with special needs would be able to choose which school they prefer and the funding from Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) would be transferred with them to that school.

Megan McArdle is a senior editor for The Atlantic who writes about business and economics writes about how our special education system shows favor to rich families and puts forth that Mitt Romney’s plan offers a viable solution.

Autism Education Romney…But it’s worth noting that a quasi-voucher system already exists under IDEA for those families with the need and — less obviously — the financial resources to obtain them. This leads to an overwhelming inequality in how children obtain special education services which is not well understood. If a version of Romney’s proposal was enacted, it would be almost certain to decrease this inequality substantially and increase opportunities for poorer children to receive better special education services. For that alone, liberals should take it seriously.


My family has lived this reality for many years. We have a severely autistic son who has attended private schools which offer intensive behavioral therapy (“Applied Behavior Analysis” or “ABA,” which is the only therapeutic methodology for which much evidence of effectiveness exists) with a student-teacher ratio of 1:1, and has also been receiving extensive ABA and other related services after school. Those schools and related services have enabled our son to make what progress he has been able to achieve. They are also necessarily and extremely expensive. But every single year, we have to “sue” NYC (technically it’s not a lawsuit in a court but an impartial hearing as provided under IDEA, but it functions in very similar fashion) to cover the costs of such a school and services when they invariably recommend services far below what is necessary for our son to achieve any educational benefit. We have never lost one of our “suits” yet against NYC, but in the meantime we are required to front the cost of our son’s school and services every year and seek eventual reimbursement from NYC. Very, very few families have the financial resources to do so. (And while we have enough resources to front the costs pending reimbursement, we are not nearly rich enough to bear the full costs of our son’s school and services – those can exceed $170K per year.) Those that do not either have to move or make do with whatever the system offers, which is often far, far below what is necessary.

In well-functioning school systems, the local schools usually can provide appropriate services for most special-needs children or recognize their inability to do so and refer the student to an appropriate private provider. In such systems, extended disputes between families and school districts are relatively rare…

Shockingly, many school systems are not well functioning. Their inability to provide an appropriate education for typical students is only mirrored more clearly when it comes to educating students with special needs…

In practice, as another manifestation of their failures, malfunctioning school systems will often fight with all the bureaucratic resources they can muster effectively against families who attempt to use the rights granted under IDEA to obtain services which differ from what the system is offering…

Making IDEA funding portable would, at the least, reduce the harmful effects of malfunctioning bureaucracies’ desire for control.


Clearly, the Romney proposal is — like most campaign proposals — many details shy of workable policy. But if the details are fleshed out right, it at least has to the potential to actually reduce a massive inequality — far more so than, say, the “Buffett Rule.” Here are a few additional thoughts.

In order for any such proposal to work, state and local special-education funding would have to be portable as well, as that is where most of the funding comes from. Perhaps that can be made a condition of the state receiving IDEA federal funding…

As set out above, because of the expense in providing high-quality intensive special-education services, even private special-education schools ultimately receive most of their tuition from the public (see the New York magazine piece linked above). Offering a voucher for whatever such schools charge would provide incentives for them to…not be overly concerned with cost efficiencies. (See, e.g., the first few decades of Medicare, what has happened to college tuitions, etc.) But this problem could likely be ameliorated by capping the voucher at what the cost would have been for the student to receive such services in the public system…

Aside from the progressive impact, mandatory co-payments for most families should help dissuade families from encouraging dubious diagnoses of special educational needs. While most of us with special needs children are skeptical that families would want diagnoses of nonexistent special needs, diagnosis inflation almost certainly does occur at the margins and co-payments can help minimize that effect. It should also be noted that under the current system, schools may have the exact opposite incentive: Jay Greene and Greg Forster have argued that some of the increases in various special-needs diagnoses (at least through the 1990s; the effect may have slowed or ceased in the last decade) may be attributable to financial incentives for schools…

In regular education debates, voucher opponents often scoff at the claims that new schools will be formed to serve students looking to take their vouchers and leave the existing public schools. As Megan pointed out in a debate with Laura several years ago, the existing special education landscape falsifies those scoffs. The existing system of shadow vouchers has funded a network of extremely high quality schools for autism in the greater NYC area, which have extensive waiting lists and people moving across the country for a spot in one of them…

As noted above, when school systems comprehensively fail to provide adequate special education services, that is typically a symptom of a larger problem providing an appropriate education for most of its students. It is no mistake that the system with the largest percentage of special education students attending private schools at public expense is the famously dysfunctional Washington DC, a system for which special education is the least of its problems…

A lot of unrevealed information here indeed. Read the entire report http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/our-special-ed-system-favors-the-rich-and-romney-has-a-plan-to-fix-it/257949/

Imagine you are a middle class family and your child was diagnosed with autism. Naturally you would want the best care.

What if the school system you worked with didn’t want to make the best forms of therapy avialable to your child. Because of red tape you are unable to pay for the therapy while you file appeals and a suffer through all types of frustration trying to get the system to release the funds so your child can get the therapy they deserve.

Do you think the Romney plan would help lower income families who have autistic children?

Be sure and share let others know your thoughts. They mean something.

One Response to Rich Parents Get All The Breaks: Educating the Autistic

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