Given limited resources, how are difficult-to-educate students best served? As this study shows, tradeoffs exist among different placements, sectors, and funding models. Since no single institutional arrangement can adequately address the needs of all students, individuals are best served by a variety of different options. In the future, we may better understand the tradeoffs involved among different options if we had useful, comprehensive data about student results and the total costs of various placements. Not only would students be better served, but taxpayers would know their money was being allocated for maximum value.

Lack of performance measures and financial accountability plagues both public and private schools for difficult-to-educate students, especially those receiving public funds. Granting families more authority over placement decisions may encourage schools to measure and demonstrate success, and could allow students to receive those services they require. At the same time, giving families more direct control over their child’s education may reduce the necessity for government regulation.

Problems with overall cost control, however, remain, especially in special education where federal law drives expenditures. Where possible, funding mechanisms should be designed in such a way as to link student results with continued funding. Those making placement decisions should share in the responsibility of paying for their costs. Government regulations which unnecessarily drive up costs should be eliminated. Future studies might explore other cost-control strategies, including tuition vouchers, and the influence that private versus public funding exerts.

Families choosing to educate their special-needs children at home or at private expense save taxpayer dollars. Since the cost of a publicly provided education can be considerable, these families should be encouraged to continue supporting their children’s education through more favorable public policies.