NJ DOE Uncountable at Special Education Accountability Hearing

Yesterday the Assembly Education Committee heard testimony from the state auditor and New Jersey School Boards Association about the lack of fiscal accountability at NJ’s private special education schools. Talking about accountability, not a single member of the Department of Education deigned to appear at the hearing.

(You’ve got to give them credit for consistency; a report released last year by Gov. Christie’s Education Transition Team acknowledged that the DOE was incapable of regulating this portion of NJ’s public school system. From that report: "The demands of an effective review of [tuition] rates for every private special ed school strains the capacity of the Department's finance staff." [More here.])

According to today's Star Ledger,
Average tuition at the schools rose 12 percent from 2008 to 2012, to $57,601 per student, and one school topped $100,000 in the 2011-12 school year. The tuition is charged to public schools, and, in turn, to New Jersey's property-tax payers
The Ledger also cites various instances of nepotism, exorbitant salaries and "questionable business deals."

In response, Gerard Thiers, the executive director of ASAH (the umbrella organization for NJ’s private schools for kids with disabilities, said that “ the private schools should not be subjected to the same rules as public schools because they need more flexibility to meet the needs of the severely disabled children that they serve.” He also expressed support for a tuition cap.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, head of the assembly committee, released this statement this morning:
"The concerns raised by recent news reports about questionable spending and lax oversight at these private schools were certainly alarming. These schools serve some of our most vulnerable students, and we must ensure that the individuals that run these schools are doing so with their best interest, as well as the best interest of taxpayers in mind. It was comforting to hear from parents today who shared the good things happening at these schools. Nevertheless we must ensure that public resources are being properly spent. I have reached out to officials in the department of education, and I'm confident they are aware of these issues and will take appropriate action, if needed. We will continue to work on the legislative side to draft regulations that will improve oversight and accountability."

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