Base Your Special Ed Budget and Staffing Decisions on Data

Running a special education program can feel overwhelming.

Female special education administrator smiles as children sit at desks and draw behind her.

When you’re busy filling staff vacancies, staying on top of individual case details, completing grant applications, and more, it’s difficult to find the time and information you need to answer “big picture” questions like:

  • Does my special ed budget accurately reflect my program’s costs and the varied needs of our student population?
  • Are requests for evaluations of students falling, rising, or holding steady?
  • Is my related services team pulling its weight?

At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we believe in collecting and analyzing data to make smarter decisions about related services management.

We give administrators who work with us an “unfair advantage”: access to our proprietary, award-winning BudgetWatch™ system. It quickly collects and analyzes data about their programs, and generates Program Summaries that enable them to make smart choices about special education spending.

How can you start making data-driven decisions to strengthen your program? Keep reading for some practical suggestions.

Why Analyzing Special Education Services Data Matters

Peter Drucker, known as the inventor of modern business management, famously said, “What is measured improves.”

The opposite statement is just as true; if you don’t measure things, they often get worse.

Would you know if some of your therapists were carrying a fraction of a full-time workload? Without current data on caseload sizes, you may miss a chance to reduce staff and spending.

Or would you know where to start if your superintendent asked you to cut the district’s special education budget? Without quality data on resource usage, you may end up taking money from initiatives that need it most.

Female special education administrator holds open manila file folder and discusses special ed budget with two therapists.

As an administrator, you can’t allow subjective opinions and conjectures to drive your decisions any more than a therapist deciding which students are making progress. Collecting and analyzing data empowers you to make effective decisions that keep your team on track.

Month-to-month and year-to-year, measuring and analyzing program trends are key. Whenever special ed costs go up, you need to be able to determine where and why increases occurred, and what you can do to bring costs back under control.

Drucker’s second most famous quote is, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” To know what the right things are, you need quality data.

Our clients regularly tell us data from their BudgetWatch™ Program Summaries make them better informed. The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make about managing related services.

What Key Metrics Do You Need to See Your Program Clearly?

Administrators are responsible for both the cost and quality of the special education services delivered to students with disabilities and disorders. Those two goals can leave you feeling conflicted. How do you do the “best” for your students when the school board tells you to cut your special ed budget?

The answer: Identify areas of waste or inefficiency so you know where to make your resources work harder.

Female school-based occupational therapist sits with kindergarten student and helps her practice pencil grip while other students sit nearby.

To understand your course of action, you’ll need to gather some very specific data:

  • Caseload numbers by building and therapist
  • Number of therapy referrals for screenings or evaluations per service by building and type
  • Amount of direct service covered by each full-time related services staff member

Because caseload and referral trends determine your program’s overall size and cost, you must know where that growth originates.

At PTS, we know from experience each school building has its own culture regarding levels of service. Some schools use more services despite having a low number of caseload students, and vice versa. By analyzing caseload and referral trends, you can find out if you’re allocating resources fairly.

Analyzing referrals also helps identify gaps in the curriculum. Too often, a lack of instruction is misconstrued as a student’s functional disability. For example, the absence of a handwriting program can lead to more occupational therapy referrals because students haven’t been adequately taught to write their letters. 

Also, look carefully at your related services providers’ division of labor. By noting the amount of direct and consultative services provided—not just the total number of students served—you can evaluate your team members’ workload division.

A speech therapist working in autistic support classrooms may have twice the amount of service to cover as a therapist working with a regular education population. Use this service-level data to help even out the load. You’ll keep your related services providers on their toes and possibly save money in the process.

Bar chart depicts decreased occupational therapy referrals in a school district because of better related services management.

PTS’ work with one particular Pennsylvania school district is a good example of how data analysis can drive positive change in related services management. When the data showed too many caseloads, we were able to trial our pre-referral interventions as part of a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) approach. These interventions reduced the number of caseloads at two out of three elementary schools. 

PTS Helps You Manage Related Services More Effectively

When Drucker said, “What is measured improves,” he was right. At PTS, we measure everything we can so you can watch your program improve.

We help our clients improve their special education budgeting and management skills by providing them with meaningful program data. We don’t just identify problems and opportunities–we offer data driven solutions and recommendations, implemented at the building level by our therapy team. Examining key program metrics brings meaningful insight to your decision-making process and allows you to accurately gauge your program’s effectiveness.

Discover the difference accurate data can make for yourself when you request your free Related Services Audit from PTS. We’ll point out immediate ways you can make your program benefit more students without exceeding your special ed budget!

Calculator, spreadsheet, and pen. Banner caption: “Discover Immediate Ways to Cut Special Ed Costs.” Button caption: “Get Your Free Audit.”

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