Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Comments on for-profit special ed schools

My friend John Torrens, President of InterActive Therapy Group, with some follow-up comments from the recent article about ESA.

I met the guys at ESA about a year ago.  We met to talk about our respective companies and to learn a little bit about each  other.  Mark Claypool and his team are stand-up guys and are definitely in this for the right reasons.  After a few hours with them it is  clear that they are educators first and business people second (except of  course for the CFO).  My guess is that if they are making money it's because they are focusing on quality  education and doing right by the kids.  If they weren't, they would be a slightly more profitable  flash-in-the-pan, and once everyone figured out that the  public school could do it better they would be out of business. I know a lot of the executive teams for similar companies and its clear that you don't  get into this business because there are gobs of money to be made.  You get into it because you have the passion and feel that you can build a better  mousetrap, and maybe through tight fiscal controls and rigor you can turn it  into something that generates a reasonable  return.

Since I am also in a related business (privatized  special education services), I wanted to chime in on the idea of private  companies making money in this line of work.  I would hate for  anyone to think negatively about companies like ESA, or my own, because we  operate for-profit companies (in a good year) in a public education  world.  It's really no  different than any other private company that does business with the  government (think nursing homes, home health agencies or even defense  contractors).  The biggest difference is that we have the privilege of  dealing with some of the most needy children in the system. To do that we  employ the most expensive personnel in the education industry and we do better  by these kids and their families than most urban public schools can.   It's not that they don't want to, but when a speech therapist in a public school has a caseload of 90 kids, it's hard to imagine anything good coming out of  it.

The same arguments we use for school reform hold true for privatized  special education. Companies like ESA or ITG are not bound by unions, we can  pay for performance, we can fire a bad teacher or therapist, and we can pay  special ed teachers more to work in schools that really need them.  It is  much easier to do a better job for these kiddos in a privatized  environment.  In most cases it costs the charter school less to use outsource to a private company for  these services because most charters don't need full time special ed and  therapy staff.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this, but I just wanted to provide  my input that private companies in public education are a great way to add  value to the system and I would hate for anyone to think there is  something wrong with it.  This industry is pretty unforgiving to  underperforming or poorly managed private companies (as it should be),  so I think parents can rest comfortably knowing that their children are  in the hands of exceptionally capable, dedicated professionals who have  the best interests of the child at  heart.

 Subscribe in a reader