"New York City is way behind in educating autistic kids--and now for-profit private schools are getting millions in public money because of it." That's the sharp angle on a story in the current issue of New York magazine entitled, "The Autism Clause: How Lawyers Can Get Around the $140K Education Price Tag," which takes readers on a tour of New York City autism education programs for young children, both public and private, and lays out the hefty price tags which the city and families pay for school programs and after-school support.
The fact is that effective programs for kids on the autism spectrum are staff intensive, and that means they cost more per student than, say, typical education programs. Added to this fact of life is the controversy-filled special education bureaucracy. In most mainstream media stories, this one included, parents are predictably in the thick of it (hint: they're not heroes). Parents here are portrayed as effective advocates for their kids who need help. But they are also set up as greedy, willing partners with aggressive law firms and opportunistic private for-profit schools who seek to cash in on the city's low supply of suitable autism services. Other big city school systems also have problems providing such services, but the article suggests that the huge New York City district is a particularly attractive target for lawyers who can easily point out its failings and win tuition fees.
The article cites the just-opened Rebecca School in Manhattan as one of the opportunistic schools, saying "New York City's open checkbook for autism is at the heart of the business plan" of the for-profit company launching it, MetSchools Inc. (In spite of its $72,500 tuition rate, the Rebecca School doesn't promise a one-to-one, but rather a two-students-to-one teacher ratio for preschool kids.)
Reading a price tag like that (and higher ones), it's easy to imagine readers of this magazine story wondering why these schools cost so much, why the city and its taxpayers have to pay. No wonder New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is opening more pre-kindergarten autism classes -- and hiring more lawyers to defend the city against special education legal challenges. The city also has opened the New York Center for Autism Charter School, its first such program. And the fact is, no one in this article questions the need for more autism services in New York. What the story doesn't ask is: When will the city open more such programs?