Age of Autism's Anne Dachel has been writing about the explosion of special education and its crushing weight on schoool districts around the world. She has catalogued 1000s of stories at Loss of Brain Trust. Yesterday, ProPublica, The Seattle Times and others exposed how one organization is profiting off of the never ending flow of students who need special education. We continue to ask WHY there are so many kids requiring special education. Not completely rhetorical.
How a billion-dollar corporation exploits Washington’s special education system
By Lulu Ramadan, Mike Reicher and Taylor Blatchford
Seattle Times staff
This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network and The Seattle Times, with support from Investigative Journalism Fund and Education Lab. Sign up for Seattle Times newsletters and alerts and ProPublica’s Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.
Donna Green hit her breaking point last summer, six months into her job as the top administrator at the Northwest School of Innovative Learning.
She had grudgingly accepted when her request for classroom computers was ignored and a furniture order for what she called an “embarrassingly barren” campus was answered with plastic folding tables. She’d worried that her staff was inexperienced but had figured her decade in special education would help fill that void.
But then her corporate bosses told her to cut the hours of staff already struggling to serve high-needs children.
To Green, it meant that Northwest SOIL, Washington state’s largest publicly funded private school for children with disabilities, would fail to deliver on the promises it had made to school districts that send it more than 100 students and millions of dollars a year.
So she sat at her desk after classes let out for the day in August 2021 and typed up a resignation letter to the school’s owner, effective immediately.
“It is truly like living in the dark ages,” she wrote about the school, detailing its cost cutting at the expense of students. “I cannot ethically or morally be a part of this any longer.”
Northwest SOIL’s corporate owner, Universal Health Services, has for years skimped on staffing and basic resources while pressuring managers to enroll more students than the staff could handle, an investigation by The Seattle Times and ProPublica has found. The psychiatric hospital chain touted its first acquisition of special education schools in 2005 as a “comfortable fit” with its businesses, and Northwest SOIL staffers said they saw the profit motive drive day-to-day decisions.
School districts pay programs such as Northwest SOIL, called nonpublic agencies, to provide specialized instruction for students whose needs can’t be met in traditional public schools. But dozens of complaints filed with the state and school districts in recent years, along with interviews with 26 former administrators, teachers and assistants, show that Northwest SOIL received public money without providing the services or education that its students needed — or that taxpayers paid for.
Northwest SOIL collects about $68,000 in annual tuition per student — more than triple the average per-pupil cost for a K-12 student in Washington — while a student with the highest needs can bring the school as much as $115,000 a year, all paid for with taxpayer dollars. READ MORE HERE.
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