Sunday’s Daily Herald covered the $48 million cab fare controversy that For the Good of Illinois highlighted a few weeks ago. You can read the article here. I would suggest reading all the comments, as they illustrate how easy it is to argue for high spending, and how hard it is to advocate for reform.
If you don’t have time, I address the points made in the comment section of the article immediately below.
Let’s start with the idea that “districts are doing the best they can.” I remain highly skeptical of this mindset based upon my experience with numerous school districts on a wide variety of topics. School districts enjoy hiding behind things like state and federal mandates. Yet, we rarely see them lobby against these mandates. Rather, they pat the taxpayer on the head as say “there there, it’s beyond our control, and there is nothing left to do.”
This is almost always wrong. We (For the Good of Illinois) FOIAed 48 districts. Only 8 have a contract or a contract process in place, and these only recently. The rest are essentially evading laws mandating contracts over a certain amount must be bid out. This is wrong on its face. With $48 million spent over 6 years, the idea that there isn’t a more efficient method to transport these children is laughable. Set standards, disclose the number
Next, someone commented that I haven’t provided for an alternative. This critique is valid, but only goes so far. With the vast majority of districts failing to attempt to bid out for a transport contract, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of a taxpayers, activists, or transparency groups to lay out specific policy proposals without the necessary information as to mandates, the bidding process (which are non-existent), or the actual numbers and locations of all the students involved.
That said, there are some easy answers, particularly with respect to special education. The first idea would be to set an amount for each special education child, and have their parents find the most suitable manner to address their needs. The one-size-fits-all district model is wholly incapable of meeting every need of this group of children. There are simply too many variables inside to bureaucratized a system to create a unified policy.
I would argue that spending $48 million for a “taxis are the only option” answer is PROOF of an unworkable system. If this is the only answer, then we need to begin questioning the model where such a ridiculous result is a “solution.”
There seem to be a lot of detractors that call into question the motives of the founder of For the Good of Illinois, Adam Andrzejewski. This is to be expected. At a time when every motive is critiqued, and trust, particularly in political issues, is at an all time low, it is easy to “shoot the messenger.”
This is made easier still when the spending at hand is for special education and homeless children. There is no group of people more deserving of sympathy than children, and special needs kids are more deserving yet. That’s what makes it so easy spend, spend, spend, on all “special needs” line item. Anyone questioning the spending opens themselves up for the ubiquitous “they must hate kids” attacks that are so effectively deployed by defenders of untrammeled school district spending.
The problem lies in whether that money could better allocated. When the districts blithely say that they “get reimbursed” for that spending, it means they are taking money out of a near bankrupt state that must find spending for school children outside of the property rich suburbs with hefty budgets.
Here are some ideas.
First, put the process up for bid, allowing not only bus and cab companies to compete, but also non-profits and associations of volunteers. Set the standards, and allow those who meet the standards to bid. This would start the process of complying with the law.
Second, consider offering parents of these kids a stipend for transport. If they can use the stipend to find the most efficient solution for their child, it saves all of us money.
Third, the best (though most politically difficult) solution is to allow every special needs student to opt out of the district system and have the money follow the child to the best solution. Money should follow children, not bureaucracies and cab companies.
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