Are School Districts Obligated to Pay Private School Tuition? - All Children Learn

Research-based curricula and highly trained, uniquely qualified staff are just two of the advantages offered by most private schools. In addition to pristine reputations, these schools often come with high price tags and sometimes waiting lists for entry. 

If you’re a parent who has a child with special needs, you might look to these schools to provide the additional support and expertise your child needs to learn. However, many factors can come into play to get your child into these schools and have their tuition covered by your home district.

When Are Districts Obligated to Pay? 

All districts are required to provide your child with special needs a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment. These buzz words have been heavily litigated in all courts across the U.S. and are somewhat subject to interpretation, but in a nutshell, they require districts to develop an IEP for your child that is appropriately ambitious in light of your child’s unique circumstances. Districts (particularly district’s CSEs) are required to offer you specialized instruction and services in all disciplines to allow your child to make meaningful progress year over year. They have to ensure your child is progressing socially, emotionally, physically, behaviorally, AND academically. 

That is a tall order. And many, many districts fall short. 

If your child’s IEP is inappropriate to meet your child’s needs or is appropriate on its face, but is unable to be implemented at your child’s assigned school, you should consider having an attorney or advocate review your case to determine the best course of action for you. 

If you (or your attorney/advocate) decide that the district has fallen short of their obligations, you may want to consider filing a due process complaint against your district’s Board of Education. This will allow you to lay out, in a detailed complaint, all of the ways your district has failed your child and what you are seeking as a form of relief (such as, tuition reimbursement for a specialized private school). 

Your district may read the complaint and settle with you. However, if they do not wish to settle the case, the district and you will litigate this case before an impartial hearing officer (an “IHO”). This will look an awful lot like a mini trial, where both sides present witnesses and evidence to try to prove their side of the story to the IHO. 

The Standard for Winning 

If there is no chance for settlement, you will start the process of presenting your case to the hearing officer at a due process hearing. The hearing officer assigned to hear your case will need to find in your favor related to the following:

  1. Your child’s IEP offered by the district was inappropriate;
  2. The private school of your choice was appropriate; and
  3. The equities weigh in your favor. In other words, “fairness” allows for you to win 100% of the tuition because you have cooperated with your district, you have been upfront and transparent, you have participated in CSE meetings for your child, and most importantly, you have submitted the requisite Ten Day Notice.  

The landmark cases pertaining to tuition reimbursement are the Burlington case and the Carter case, resulting in what is often referred to as the Burlington/Carter standard, the standard referenced above.

This may sound like a daunting task, but it can be done and is done every day, across the country. If you feel like your child’s rights are being violated, search for an attorney or advocate near you so that you can fight back. 

Find Private Schools in NY

Interested in special education private school options in New York state? Check out All Children Learn’s Online Directory. Match your child’s needs with schools that specialize in targeting those needs.