Special Ed Spending

WNYC has learned that New York City spent $89 million sending students with disabilities to private schools during the 2007-2008 school year. That's an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous year.

The education department's lead attorney, Michael Best, says the increase is largely because more families are seeking reimbursement for private school tuition by arguing their children's needs can't be met in the public schools. He also says there was a backlog of cases that had to be settled following a class action lawsuit.

BEST: And you combine those two things and you end up with cases being settled more quickly than in prior years and also with payments being made more quickly than in prior years.

Best says the department hired more attorneys and paralegals to handle the cases, and to challenge those the city considers unworthy of taxpayer-funded tuition. But attorneys who represent families of children with special needs claim the city is now making it more difficult to bring these cases.