Christina Samuels at Education Week:
Many school-focused "pay for success" funding models—a term for private investment in public programs with the prospect of financial gains—have to date focused on reducing a school district's special education costs.
For example, investors may pay for preschool programs aimed at children from low-income families, who have a higher likelihood of being identified with disabilities. The fewer children who are identified, the more a district "saves"—and a portion of those unspent funds is returned to investors.
But is holding down special education enrollment the only goal that pay-for-success programs, also called social impact bonds, should aim for?
Rather than envisioning special education solely as a placement to avoid, pay-for-success models offer an opportunity to support special education in other ways, says a brief from the Institute for Child Success, a South Carolina-based research and policy organization.
From Megan Carolan and Bryan Boroughs, "Opportunities for Special Education and Early Intervention in Pay for Success," Institute for Child Success, March 2018:
For example, Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Their Parents (LEAP) has been found to have positive impacts for students with autism as well as their peers who do not have autism. This model, which enrolls preschoolers with autism in inclusive classrooms, utilizes several unique adjustments to meet the needs of its students. Typically-developing peers receive training on communicating and interacting with their classrooms who are on the autism spectrum. Teachers receive written materials and in-person training to collect data on children’s generalized behavioral changes, adjusting the intervention based on what is indicated. Families of children who are on the autism spectrum receive training in strategies to teach behaviors.40 The rigorous research conducted on this intervention makes it an intriguing candidate for consideration in a PFS project. When compared to “business as usual” classrooms, LEAP is linked with a reduction in autistic symptoms after two years of the intervention, as well as progress on intellectual and language measures; typically developing children also benefit in terms of improved social skills and reduced disruptive behaviors, and experience no negative outcomes from the program.41 Maintaining a student’s enrollment in an inclusive classroom may itself be worth considering as an outcome, as it is less expensive than separate classrooms and it is linked to academic and social benefits for students who may otherwise be placed in separate classrooms. Participating families also benefit, as adults show fewer signs of significant stress and depression following the program. While the program has not currently been considered for feasibility as a PFS project, it is one promising example of how outcomes-based financing can be used to expand programs that work for children with disabilities – not just to look at outcomes.
40. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2012). WWC review of the report: Randomized, controlled trial of the LEAP model of early intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from http://whatworks.ed.gov.
41. Strain, P.S. & Bovey, E.H. II. (2011). Randomized, controlled trial of the LEAP model of early intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31(3) 133–154. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0271121411408740?journalCode=teca