Friday, August 15, 2008

Editorial: Special-ed report merits your attention

Published: August 13. 2008 1:40AM

Taxpayers, parents and children's advocates should pay close attention to an investigation by the Pennsylvania Auditor General into reimbursements for special education in Millcreek Township.

The School Based Access Program reimburses school districts and other education agencies for health-related costs --such as physical or speech therapy or hearing and vision-related services -- for special education students who receive Medicaid.

The federal government has determined that such medical services are necessary for students to benefit from special education programs and that schools should not have to absorb additional costs to provide these services.

But Erica Erwin found an interesting pattern, as reported in the Erie Times-News on Sunday.

The Millcreek School District has received substantially more in health-related reimbursements than the Erie School District.

In 2005-06, Millcreek received $940,604 in medical reimbursements for its 900 special-ed students. The highest amount the Erie district received for its 2,560 special-ed students was $629,960, in 2003-04.

This disparity also happens elsewhere. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in June that the Milwaukee School District, an urban district, received lower medical reimbursements than many smaller districts throughout the state. In some cases, the Milwaukee district can deliver services more efficiently than smaller districts, which have to make special accommodations to serve small populations of special-ed students.

But efficiency alone doesn't explain how some districts snag more money than others for medical reimbursements.

The Waynesboro Record recently reported that the special education director for the Waynesboro Area School District, in south-central Pennsylvania, had requested a second clerk to help apply for medical reimbursements. The new clerk was needed because the district may have been missing "billable opportunities" for additional revenue, the special-ed director said.

Linda Schrock Taylor, a former Michigan teacher, blogged about her reaction after she said she received a directive from her school superintendent to file claims for Medicaid services. "I am NOT a qualified health care worker and I do not provide direct health services.' Neither do I coordinate any health care services," Schrock Taylor fumed.

Anyone who has reared or educated a child with special needs knows how important it is to provide appropriate educational services to help children reach their full potential.

But talk about "billable opportunities" raises red flags. Those words give the appearance that maximizing revenue trumps helping students and that if more children qualify for special-ed, the district can benefit financially.

That should not be a district's practice or philosophy.

We eagerly await the Auditor General's report on Millcreek.

No comments: