Three Ways to Control the Cost of Educating Students with Special Needs

Follow These Principles to Maximize Your Related Services Budget

Trying to provide special education and related services on a shrinking budget to a growing number of students is one of the biggest challenges public school administrators face.

cost of educating students with special needsThe task is especially difficult for special education directors. On one hand, they must handle the state and local school boards’ fiscal restrictions. On the other hand, they must deliver services mandated by federal law, many of which are underfunded.

The good news is school districts can use a number of strategies to get the cost of educating students with special needs under control once and for all.

At PTS, Inc., we use the Therapy Achievement Approach to help districts we work with reduce costs from day one.

Special ed directors and administrators can apply our model’s core concepts to their programs. Doing so gets students with disabilities the help they need quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

Read on to discover how you can get started.

Rethink How You Evaluate Your Program’s Efficiency

Traditional special education service providers evaluate efficiency by comparing direct time billed to indirect time. This assessment is problematic for a few reasons.

While different therapists may work the same number of hours, this doesn’t mean they carry comparable workloads. And, even if one provider charges the lowest hourly rate, you may still be paying more than necessary. This raises the question: what exactly are your therapists billing for?

PTS believes comparing hours of service time covered to total hours billed gives you a far more accurate picture of your team’s efficiency.

Truly efficient therapy teams:

  • See students in small groups whenever appropriate. Even groups as small as two can cut billing in half.
  • Minimize billing for indirect time, as in time spent doing paperwork and other administrative duties.
  • Eliminate mid-day gaps in the treatment schedule.
  • Limit therapists’ travel time between school buildings.

PTS’ award-winning, patent-pending BudgetWatchTM technology monitors all these characteristics on a monthly basis. It allows us to reduce the number of hours billed and identify opportunities to keep our clients’ special education expenditures as low as possible.

When you evaluate your program’s efficiency using the same criteria, you can bring down how much your district spends to educate students with special needs.

Be Proactive in Offering Pre-Referral Supports

Over 20 years, we’ve learned the number of students referred for evaluation drives total related service costs more than any other factor. The greater number of students evaluated for therapeutic services, the more work providers have on their plates.

cost of educating students with special needsThe best way to stabilize therapists’ caseloads is to offer strategies and interventions that benefit students before they ever need evaluations.

PTS’ Therapy Achievement Approach uses Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) to equip teachers and students’ support teams with practical ways of addressing functional issues directly in the regular education classroom. We provide free targeted teacher in-services, an online resource library, and expert consultations. As a result, school staff members learn to handle many common situations that would otherwise lead to student referrals.

Offering pre-referral supports also dramatically improves teacher and parent satisfaction. By being responsive early in the process, you gain educators’ and families’ trust and reduce the demand for expensive interventions.

PTS uses BudgetWatchTM, our patent-pending staffing management software, to evaluate referrals for our clients by asking:

  • Where are the referrals coming from? Which grades? Which buildings?
  • What kinds of referrals are you seeing the most for each type of therapy?
  • What is the process for getting students on and off therapy caseloads? Is it working?

Once you answer these questions, you can target individual student populations’ and teachers’ needs with pre-referral trainings and supports.

Make Sure Your Teams Use Clear Eligibility Criteria

In special education, the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is all too true. More insistent parents or advocates tend to get more services for their students.

Ensuring therapists adhere to clear eligibility guidelines is a key component of the Therapy Achievement Approach. A student’s need or difference must make a significant impact on his or her academic ability to access the curriculum.

Many therapists come from a medical background and need an orientation to the concept of academic impact. That’s why PTS started School-Based Academy. This program gives therapists a conceptual framework and practical tools for implementing best practices.

The number of students coming on and off caseloads is part of the data we collect for our clients with BudgetWatch. But every program needs a way to monitor this information. It’s a clear indicator of whether therapy teams are sticking to established eligibility guidelines.

If they are, you’ll see students move through a “Continuum of Service” over a period of time: from direct service, to consultation, and then to discharge.

Let PTS Help You Keep Special Ed from Costing More Than It Needs To

Knowledge is power. The more you know about how your district uses therapeutic services, the more you can do to effect positive change.

By putting our Therapy Achievement Approach’s key concepts into practice, you can control the cost of meeting students’ special education needs, put effective supports in place earlier, and increase transparency, accountability, and fairness throughout your program.

Our BudgetWatchTM technology gives us a clear advantage when it comes to tracking the data needed to transform districts’ programs. If you want to put our advantage to work for you, call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online.

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