The District Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has rolled out another proposal to control the cost of tuition and other services at private schools where special education students are sent at public expense. The new rate-setting package, which would go into effect in July, is similar to the one presented last year. But the agency withdrew the previous proposal after complaints from school officials and parents that the timing was unfair; it was presented in mid-summer when few were paying attention and schools had already set their budgets for the coming year.

Under federal law, parents can sue the District for private placement if they think the school system cannot serve their child in a traditional public school or public charter school. If an administrative hearing officer agrees, the student is assigned to a private residential or day school.

The District spends $283 million a year in tuition and transportation for about 2,700 emotionally or physically disabled students. Day schools cost anywhere from $23,000 to more than $80,000 a year. Some residential facilities as far away as Utah and Georgia can exceed the $200,000 mark. There is no real system for regulating payments to non-public schools, and in some instances tuition is based on informal arrangements made years ago.

The proposal, which aims to equalize spending in public and private schools for students with similar disabilities, would cap tuition at $38,196 for a 180-day school year. The number represents the sum of the annual per pupil funding allocation for public special education students ($10,466) and the per pupil supplement for ‘Level IV” students, those with the most serious disabilities ($27,730).

OSSE has scheduled two public hearings on the new rates,which also include caps on “related services” (psychiatrists, speech and language pathologists, physical therapists etc) and evaluations and assessments. The first hearing will be 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at OSSE headquarters, 810 1st Street NE, third floor, near Union Station. The second will be April 13, same time and place. The public comment period ends April 25.