The D.C. Council wants to find a cheaper way to transport special-education students, whose busing system costs the city $92 million — or $26,285 per student.

When the public schools lack the services for a student’s special needs, the federal government requires the District to foot the bill of sending the child to another school. That’s currently the case for 3,500 students, served by the Department of Student Transportation’s $92 million budget and 840 buses that run 645 routes.

That’s an average of 5.4 students on a bus at a time — a frustrating inefficiency as city officials look toward the fiscal 2013 budget.

At a breakfast with Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday, council members suggested ideas to cut the cost. At-large Councilman David Catania suggested a car-sharing program, like ZipCar, that would allow parents to drive their own children to school — $26,285 is well above the cost of a reasonable used car — but Gray quickly dismissed the proposal, saying it “doesn’t resonate with me.”

Rather, he said, the high cost of busing special-education students was “a symptom, not the problem.” The problem was D.C. Public Schools’ inability to serve the students, Gray said.
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A 14-year-old lawsuit, referred to as the Blackman-Jones case, has haunted the city with charges that it fails to provide adequate services to students with special needs.

Earlier this year, the portion of the suit claiming the District did not provide timely evaluations for children was dropped, but the more substantive part — tackling the services themselves — remains on the books.

Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled on Nov. 16 that the District has failed to provide services to hundreds of students between the ages of 3 and 5 who were eligible for special education under federal law.

D.C. Public Schools has opened two diagnostic centers for preschool-age children since 2009, and the percentage of these kids identified as needing special-education services has increased from 2 percent to 7.4 percent.

“I am disappointed that the ruling ignores our remarkable progress over the past two years,” Chancellor Kaya Henderson said.

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Filed under: DC Special Education

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