Manage Your Special Education Budget and Improve Student Outcomes

Learn How Program Data Analysis with PTS Can Save Your District Money

Special education administrators are responsible for an overwhelming number of details: your special education program budget, therapy staff members, and even the legal details of individual cases. Sometimes, when you are buried in minutia, it can be hard to step back and see how your overall related services program is doing.

special education program budgetAre costs going up or down? Are there more referrals for therapy? Is my related services team pulling their weight? These questions are difficult to answer when you do not have the necessary resources.

The only way to evaluate your program is to have actual data at hand. But what are the key metrics you should look at, and how do you collect that information in the first place? At PTS, Inc., we have an unfair advantage when it comes to data collection—our BudgetWatchTM system. All of our clients have free access to analytics in PTS’ Program Summaries as part of our service. Understanding this data and using it to your advantage requires you to know what to look at and where to start.

Why Looking at Program Data Matters

Peter Drucker, known as the inventor of modern business management, is famous for saying, “What is measured improves.” The opposite is just as true—if you don’t measure things, they often get worse.

special education program budgetIf you are unaware that some of your therapists are carrying a fraction of a full-time workload, you may miss an opportunity to reduce staff and spending. Also, when the superintendent asks you to make special education funding cuts, how do you know where to begin if you do not have the data handy?

Collecting and analyzing data on your special education program empowers you to make effective decisions that will keep your team on track. As an administrator, you cannot allow subjective opinions and conjectures to drive your decision-making progress, just as a therapist cannot simply guess which students are making progress. The ability to identify program trends from year-to-year is also key. When special education costs go up, you need to be able to determine where and why the increase occurred to turn things around.

Drucker’s second most famous quote is, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” To lead your special education department to the best of your ability, you need to have clarity and vision. Our clients regularly tell us how using data from their Program Summaries has enabled them to make informed choices. The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make.

What Are the Key Metrics You Need to See?

Administrators are responsible for both the cost and the quality of the services delivered to students, which potentially puts them in a conflicted position. How do you do the “best” for your students with special needs when the school board tells you that you have to cut your budget?

The answer is to identify areas of waste or inefficiency and put your resources to work. To understand the course of action you need to take, you will need to gather some very specific data:

  • The caseload numbers by building and by therapist
  • The number of referrals per service by both building and type
  • The amount of direct service covered by each of your full-time related services staff members

Because trends in caseload numbers and referrals determine the overall size and cost of your special education program, it is important to know where that growth originates.

In the case of Mifflin School District, we were able to trial PTS’ pre-referral interventions as part of a global Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) approach. These interventions reduced the number of caseloads at two out of three elementary schools. As strategies are implemented at each building to help prevent referrals, the changes in caseload from year to year can help determine what is working and what is not.

special education program budget

At PTS, we know from experience that each school building has its own culture when it comes to levels of service. Some schools utilize more services despite having a low number of caseload students, and vice versa. By analyzing trends in caseloads and referrals, you can find out if you are allocating resources fairly.

An analysis of referrals can also help you identify gaps in the curriculum. For example, the absence of a handwriting program can cause referrals for occupational therapy to increase because students have not been adequately taught to write their letters. Too often, a lack of instruction is misconstrued as a functional disability in a student.

Is Your Team Pulling Their Weight?

Look carefully at the division of labor across your related services providers. By taking note of the amount of direct and consultative services provided—not just the total number of students served—you can evaluate the workload division amongst team members.

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 will keep your related services providers on their toes and possibly save some money in the process.

Save Your Special Education Program Budget

Teaching administrators to analyze program data is one of the primary ways PTS helps our clients improve their special education program budgeting and management skills. Examining this data contributes clarity and insight into the decision-making process and allows us to assess the effectiveness of your program. When Drucker said, “What is measured improves,” he was right. At PTS, we measure everything we can so we can watch you improve.

Contact our Conshohocken office today for more information about our services.

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