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Private Placements Benefit High-Needs Students

February 6, 2018 - 9:11am CST

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and the schools it serves spend up to $2 million annually—as much as $200,000 per student—to send selected students with profound disabilities to private residential schools in other states, according to data provided by OSDE.

Most of those students attend one private nonprofit school in Wichita, Kansas. This little-known program serves students from ages 5 to 21 who cannot be educated in regular public schools, often due to behavioral issues related to autism spectrum disorder. Their local school districts are thus relieved of the costly burden of trying to educate them without disruptions to the school budget or its learning environment.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was first passed in 1975 to mandate that all states provide a free appropriate education to all children with disabilities at no cost to parents. Any student suspected of having a disability that could interfere with that child’s learning must be evaluated and, if found to be disabled, be prescribed an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

In the most severe cases, some IEP students may be deemed high-needs cases. Oklahoma has received federal IDEA funds to set aside up to $2.5 million annually to serve those high-needs students, some of whom are deemed by IEP evaluators to merit placement in a residential educational setting.

Most of Oklahoma’s high-needs students are sent to Heartspring School in Wichita. “Most of our students have challenging behaviors that interfere with their academic, home and community life,” the Heartspring website says. Those behaviors include “aggression, self-injurious behaviors, tantrums, non-compliance, property destruction, etc.”

Todd Loftin, executive director of special education at OSDE, said the state pays a portion of the cost of residential placement of IEP students based on the sending district’s amount of state aid.

“For example, we might pay half of the cost for a student from Oklahoma City Public Schools, and 80 percent for one from another school,” he said.

Loftin said there are few schools like Heartspring, which usually has a waiting list and requires students to reapply each year. He said OSDE and local schools would prefer to send high-needs students to a residential facility in Oklahoma, but there is none.

“Directors in Oklahoma would be ecstatic if we had a program like they (Heartspring) have,” he said.

The IDEA high-needs funding is divided into two tiers.

Students classified as Tier I students are eligible for placement in an out-of-state residential facility.

Those classified as Tier II stay in Oklahoma and are placed in the school district receiving the Tier II funds. “To qualify for Tier II, a student must cost the district 3x the average per-pupil expenditure,” said OSDE spokesman Phil Bacharach. “The district then uses the funds for increased services for the student.”

For fiscal year (FY) 2018, 178 students are classified as Tier II cases from 33 school districts, at a cost of $1,520,742.

 

High-Needs Student Placements, Tier I

Fiscal Year District Facility
FY08    
$1,767,891.99    
7 students    
  Catoosa Judge Rotenberg Educational Center
  Peavine Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Keota Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Morrison Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY09    
$1,707,718.67    
9 students    
  Catoosa Autistic Treatment Center
  Edmond Rancho Valmora
  Keota Heartspring
  Mid-Del Heartspring
  Morrison Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Peavine Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY10    
$2,007,031.99    
11 students    
  Catoosa Autistic Treatment Center
  Edmond Rancho Valmora/High Frontier
  Edmond Heartland
  Hydro-Eakly Heartspring
  Keota Heartspring
  Mid-Del Heartspring
  Morrison Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Peavine Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY11    
$2,054,248.33    
9 students    
  Edmond Heartland
  Hydro-Eakly Heartspring
  Keota Heartspring
  Mid-Del Heartspring
  Morrison Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Peavine Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY12    
$1,479,968.43    
9 students    
  Hydro-Eakly Heartspring
  Keota Heartspring
  Mid-Del Heartspring
  Morrison Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Okemah Heartspring
  Peavine Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY13    
$1,337,073.99    
7 students    
  Keota Heartspring
  Mid-Del Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Okemah Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY14    
$1,219,038.07    
7 students    
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Keota Heartspring
  Ponca City Heartspring
  Okemah Heartspring
  Stillwater Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
     
FY15    
$1,305,296.48    
8 students    
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Norman Melmark
  Keota Heartspring
  Okemah Heartspring
  Stillwater Heartspring
  Tecumseh Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
     
FY16    
$1,044,701.62    
7 students    
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Keota Heartspring
  Okemah Heartspring
  Oklahoma City Susan Wayne Center
  Stillwater Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
     
FY17    
$1,058,016.72    
9 students    
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Keota Heartspring
  Sulphur Green Tree School
  Okemah Heartspring
  Oklahoma City Heartspring
  Stillwater Heartspring
  Tulsa Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
     
FY18 (obligated)    
$752,800.09    
5 students    
  Stilwell Heartspring
  Yukon Heartspring
  Stillwater Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring
  Broken Arrow Heartspring

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education

 

High-Needs Student Placements, Tier II

Fiscal Year Number of Students Served Number of Districts Amount Obligated
FY08 unknown 21 $1,759,151.93
FY09 unknown 29 $2,126,805.62
FY10 unknown 26 $396,505.99
FY11 98 24 $304,335.24
FY12 51 19 $838,416.60
FY13 95 25 $1,445,920.65
FY14 104 26 $1,186,017.66
FY15 107 27 $1,043,788.03
FY16 139 27 $3,194,704.52
FY17 152 29 $1,830,533.81
FY18 178 33 $1,520,742.63

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education