This District Made Its Special Ed Budget Do More—You Can, Too!

Find Out How To Cut The Cost But Not The Quality Of Special Education

Too often, special education programs cost too much.

special education budgetThe federal government pledged to fund 40% of the average cost of special education per student when it reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004. But it currently gives just under half that amount, according to the National Education Association. State and local districts face a $10.6 billion shortfall as they try to meet the $16,921 per student special ed cost.

In your struggle to stretch your district’s special education budget, you’ve probably heard from plenty of school-based therapy companies who say they’ll help you control costs.

But at Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), controlling the costs of special education is only the start of what we do. We promise to transform special ed and related services programs.

And we deliver!

Here’s one story of how.

Poorly Managed Programs Cost Your District More than Money

In 2015, one school district in Berks County, PA needed a new provider of therapy services. For a decade, they’d worked with a provider who charged a low rate but billed a lot of hours. The district’s special ed budget was nearing a breaking point.

Even worse, so was the district’s special education director! Frustrated by a fragmented, dysfunctional therapy team, she knew she had to improve programming for students as well as rein in related services spending.

When we arrived in the district, we found tell-tale signs the previous provider hadn’t been managing the therapy program well:

  • Lack of accountabilityThe previous provider had placed up to five occupational therapists (OTs) in one building, allowing caseloads and service levels to grow out of control.
  • Lack of steady supportA stream of “revolving door” therapists meant building staff didn’t have a dependable source of services for students or training for themselves.
  • Lack of helpful monitoringStudents stayed on caseload whether or not they were showing signs of progress, and their IEP goals weren’t being updated.

Fortunately, district administrators were engaged, supportive, and open to doing things in new ways. So they invited PTS to be their new, sole therapy services provider.

Taking Steps in the Right Direction

Making sure the right kids get on and OFF therapists’ caseloads is the first step in getting a special education budget under control. For that reason, PTS and the administration began our collaboration by addressing referrals and caseloads in several ways:

  • Training building staffWhen we tracked referrals to their source of origin, we realized teachers and paraprofessionals could handle many of the reasons for those referrals themselves, if properly trained. Our Clinical Director provided that training.
  • Focusing available servicesWhen in-class strategies alone couldn’t meet students’ needs, we focused on providing short-term Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) interventions. That focus kept dozens more students off the OT caseload.
  • Reducing on-site therapistsTo establish cultures of stability and accountability, we placed one OT, one Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA), and one physical therapist (PT) per building.

Most significantly, we used data from our award-winning BudgetWatchTM software to identify more opportunities to improve efficiency and save money. For example, when our system revealed the OT was traveling back and forth to the same schools multiple times per day, we worked with the buildings to create a streamlined schedule.

Complying with Special Ed Budget Cuts without Cutting Services

The changes we made transformed the relationship between teachers and therapists in the district.

  • Creating environments of trust and respectBecause each building now had a dedicated therapy team, teachers knew who to contact when students had issues and no longer had to “fight” to get help in a responsible timeframe.
  • Empowering teachers to meet more students’ needsThe training PTS provided enabled teachers to handle many students’ common functional issues, so referrals went down.
  • Lowering the number of students with servicesWhen a therapist recommended a student be discharged from services, teachers knew they could still count on therapists if that student needed additional support. As a result, the number of students with services dropped year after year (Fig.1).

special education budget

You’ll note we didn’t “cut” services. We applied them in a more managed, proactive way.

Our clinical director, Jen Cave, OTR/L, met regularly with therapists and used data from our BudgetWatchTM platform to streamline schedules and support the transition to a small group treatment model when appropriate. With caseloads and referrals under control, costs began to come down, allowing the district to serve its students within its special education funding limits.

In year two, we conducted more training, further revised service levels, and applied a more robust MTSS approach. Students had access to pre-referral interventions, and teachers had access to therapy resources and strategies without needing to have a therapist involved. Costs fell even further (Fig. 2), making teachers, administrators, and families happy.

special education budget

Start Transforming Your Related Services Program with PTS

As our work with this school district shows, PTS’ service delivery model enables all students who need support to get what they need, but not necessarily through direct access to related services.

Empowering teachers and other building staff with many tools therapists use encourages them to draw on therapists as a resource for the whole building, not just for students with disabilities getting 30 minutes of therapy per week. This approach transforms related services programs into a therapeutic environment—what we call the Therapeutic EcosystemTM.

Using the right team, tools, and technology, we at PTS not only help school districts bring their special education budgets under control but also help make a powerful, positive difference in kids’ lives. Seeing that difference is what we find most satisfying.

Discover how we can help your district decrease your program’s costs while amplifying its impact, just as we helped that district in Berks County. Click here to claim a FREE Related Services Audit. We’ll help you spot immediate ways to control the cost of special education in your district while increasing its quality.

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