No One is Helping Special Education Children in New York State: and now the US Inspector General is Noticing
Dee Alpert, Specialeducationmuckraker.com Editor; and New York State must repay millions spent on unnecessary special education services (US Government)
Ms Alpert is outraged that no one in New York State is providing special education students with the services and resources they need, as No Child Left Behind requires.
April 30, 2004
U.S. Is Seeking Return of Funds From Schools
By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ
WASHINGTON, April 29 - The federal government is moving to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid payments it maintains have been improperly claimed by school districts throughout New York, according to federal officials and state school administrators.
The payments were all approved during the Clinton administration to help schools in New York City and elsewhere in the state cover the cost of educating children with speech disabilities, most of whom are enrolled in special education programs, these officials say.
Now, though, investigators for the Department of Health and Human Services are going back through records and identifying instances in which they say school districts improperly submitted Medicaid claims to the federal government on behalf of those children.
In a recently completed audit, federal investigators concluded that school districts around the state outside New York City had received about $174 million in improper payments, of nearly $362 million given to them from September 1993 to June 2001.
In a memo accompanying the audit, Dara Corrigan, acting chief of the office of inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, described many cases in which New York school districts identified children as eligible for Medicaid without getting approval from an "appropriate medical professional."
Ms. Corrigan also went on to note many instances in which therapeutic services were not provided "by or under the direction of a certified speech-language pathologist or an individual with similar qualification," as required by federal regulations. "The lack of supervision of services by a qualified speech pathologist raises concern about the quality of services," she said. The inspector general has recommended to the Department of Health and Human Services that New York return the money.
Federal investigators have begun a similar inquiry in New York City, where 160,000 children are enrolled in special education, making New York's program the nation's largest, according to federal and city officials. While federal officials say they are still trying to establish the exact amount of improper payments made to New York City schools, state monitoring the issue say the figure could be at least $330 million.
In some respects, the report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services echoes the concerns of critics of New York's special education program, who have long argued that many school districts loosely label children disabled so that schools can qualify for more money from the state and federal governments.
Schools do have an incentive to identify children as eligible for Medicaid, since the federal government picks up as much as 50 percent of the cost of treating them, officials say. Schools in New York received more than $2.5 billion in federal Medicaid financing from September 1993 to June 2001, with the cost of speech therapy totaling about $1.1 billion, according to the audit by the Department of Health and Human Service's inspector general.
New York school administrators, along with some elected officials, are taking issue with the criticisms being raised by the federal agency, saying it appears to be nothing more than an attempt by the federal government to save money at a time of mounting deficits.
These officials also say that New York schools are not to blame if any improper Medicaid payments were made, noting that the Clinton administration never provided any clear guidance on how federal Medicaid money could be used in schools.
"For the federal government to assess these kind of penalties against the state or any city in the state is nothing short of outrageous," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York. "What the federal government should be doing is clarifying the regulations prospectively and not exacting any retroactive penalties, which only hurts school children."
At the same time, these officials say that the Department of Health and Human Service's efforts raise questions about fairness and equity. Specifically, they point to the fact that New York City spends about $2.5 billion a year on special education, a federally mandated program, but receives only about nine percent of the money it spends from the federal government.
Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said there was no evidence that school districts overstated their Medicaid costs in an effort to defraud the federal government. He also argued that schools provided speech therapy and other such services to children who truly needed them under the supervision of appropriate experts.
"I think they are looking to try to shrink the size of the Medicaid program," Mr. Kremer said. "We believe children with certain disabilities will be hurt by that."
New York is not the only state facing federal scrutiny. The inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services has conducted similar inquiries into Medicaid spending in school districts in 11 other states, according to Judy Holtz, a spokeswoman for that office.
One of the most recent audits focused on Houston, where federal investigators concluded that school administrators had improperly claimed $2.79 million in Medicaid funds. They recommended that the money be returned to the federal government.
In New York, federal investigators found other sorts of problems, including weak supervision of the speech programs covered by Medicaid. For instance, there was only one person assigned in the Buffalo school district to provide "direction" to 140 speech teachers working in more than 100 schools, according to the New York audit.
The audit pointed out that although those teachers provided services to more than 6,000 students annually, the person directing them did not, for the most part, "see or render speech services to students." And the audit found that the same person had referred "thousands of students for speech services with one blanket referral." For example, on Sept. 1, 2000, the supervisor referred 4,434 students for speech services without even seeing many of them or reviewing their case files, according to the audit. The audit concluded that such weak oversight "compromised the integrity of speech claims and the school health program."
STAGGERING FAIL RATE IN SPECIAL ED By KENNETH LOVETT and CARL CAMPANILE
May 19, 2004 -- The city's special-education students are being left behind.
New state statistics on the achievement of Big Apple students with learning disabilities in 2003 showed a shockingly abysmal performance, with only 3.5 percent of the eighth-graders passing the English exam and 5 percent passing the math test.
"It's really a clarion call for change in practices so students with disabilities have a better shot," said state Education Commissioner Richard Mills.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein cited the figures to defend his controversial overhaul of special ed.
"It shows how unsuccessful the city has been," Klein said, adding that the "defenders of the status quo" should review the numbers and stop fighting change.
Elementary and high school special-ed students performed better than middle schoolers. But still, the overwhelming majority of special-ed students are not meeting state standards.
Just 15 percent passed the fourth-grade English test, while fewer than one in three passed math.
At the high school level, about a third of the city's special-ed students passed the English Regents with at least a 55 score, and about a third failed.
A troubling one-third of the students didn't even take the exam.
Eleven percent of the city's school-age population are in special-ed programs.