Key Coverage

Far From Home

In the 2017-18 school year, a handful of students (mostly from wealthy suburban Chicago districts) were sent to Discovery Academy or one of its associated facilities in Utah, and at least 70 more to other Utah boarding schools. That’s according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, from the Illinois State Board of Education.

Utah offers a veritable smorgasbord of boarding facilities for “troubled teens.” A 2016 story in the Deseret News reported that the state had more than 100 such programs, and served more than 6,000 clients in the previous year, more than 92 percent from other states. The report cited a 2015 economic impact study based on survey results from about half of those programs showing they earned about $270 million, contributed $22 million in state and local taxes, and added $423 million to the state’s GDP. In return, the state keeps regulations to a minimum.

Because the cost to the home school district is so much higher for public instead of private placement, many special education advocates argue that Illinois’ funding structure leaves public facilities starved for resources while incentivizing placement in private facilities. Melissa Taylor, past-president of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education (IAASE), surveyed other states and concluded that Illinois is unique in this funding structure.