Bridgeport’s Dysfunctional Special Education Spending: The City and It’s Students Can’t Afford It

On Monday night, new Bridgeport Board of Education Chair attorney Dennis Bradley said that the BOE had “ some serious decisions to make” – a wakeup call for everyone at the meeting.

As it turns out the district is in significant financial turmoil. According to the district’s most recent Financial Conditions Report published in December, the city school board is facing a staggering $5.8 million budget shortfall for the 2015-16 school year.

If you’re experiencing Déjà vu, that’s because this is the second time in the past two months that the district’s projected budget gap has increased by over a million dollars.

One has to wonder: At what point will the Bridgeport Board of Education start facing reality?

The BOE has spent the past year scapegoating the city for it’s budget problems, but no one wants to deal with the fact that at the root of their current fiscal crisis is a fundamentally broken special education system.

According to the Connecticut Post, much of the shortfall is due to the increasing cost of special education services, which makes up more than half of the district’s projected shortfall.

To be more precise, according to the district’s financial report, over $3.3 million of the $5.8 million dollar projected budget deficit is special education related, $3.1 million of which is going towards increased tuition fees for out-of-district placements.

This increase in spending isn’t exactly shocking when you consider that over the past few years there have been multiple complaints filed against the district over special education violations.

Two years ago, the state claimed that Bridgeport Public Schools “systemically violated” state and federal special education law. As a result, the district’s contracted the Capitol Region Education Council, or CREC, to audit their special education program.

The audit found one of the key problems was the ineffective allocation of resources.

While there are certainly students who legitimately require out-of-district placements, the audit found that Bridgeport Public Schools did not have adequate in-district supports.

This isn’t just a financial issue. Special education students are being robbed of their federally mandated right to the “least restrictive” learning environment.

The IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states that students with disabilities should learn in the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, with the general population to the maximum extent appropriate for that particular student. The law is written that way because research shows that special education students benefit from learning alongside their non-disabled peers.

Failing to create internal supports, while sending an increasing number of the district’s special education population to out-of-district placements, is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery.

With the tens of millions currently being spent on sending students out of the district, Bridgeport Public Schools could hire the appropriate teachers and specialists to create programs in-district.

This would save the district money that could be spent on improving instruction for all students.



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