The Department of Education is signing a $54.9 million contract with a firm called MAXIMUS to streamline the way it tracks services for students with disabilities. Right now, a paper system tracks the process of diagnosing and giving services to special education students, with results that both special education advocates and the department say are poor.

The new system will allow administrators and teachers to track these documents in a single place online. It will also be costly: The five-year contract is for $54.9, and the DOE expects extra attached costs like internal training programs so that principals can use the database will cost an additional $23.7 million over five years.

The DOE press release that went out on this earlier today includes unusually glowing remarks from the special education advocate Kim Sweet, who as the executive director of Advocates for Children has often criticized the DOE for failing to serve special education students adequately

Sweet’s statement:

“The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special education data. Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing essential services ot students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new data system is essential to helping the Departmetn of Education improve its delivery of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable population.”

The contract was not a no-bid but was competitively bid. A law firm helped the department negotiate it pro bono.

Here’s the full press release, below the jump:

CHANCELLOR KLEIN ANNOUNCES NEW ONLINE DATABASE TO REPLACE DECADES-OLD SYSTEM TO
TRACK SERVICES FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

New System Will Enable More Timely, Accurate Delivery of Services to Students

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that the Department
of Education will replace its aging special education data systems with a new
Web-based Special Education Student Information System (SESIS) that will enhance the
evaluation, placement, and case management of students with disabilities. The new
system will replace paper files-which can be lost or delayed in handling as students
move between schools-with electronic records for every student with disabilities
enrolled in or evaluated by the public school system. For the first time, the
Department of Education will be able to create an online Individualized Education
Program for every student with disabilities, and the system will also contain other
relevant information such as student referrals, evaluation reports, and physicians'
prescriptions. The online tracking system will allow principals and other school
personnel to access and update student files quickly and securely. The new system
will also allow the Department of Education to provide families of students with
disabilities with better and more timely information. The Department of Education
has selected MAXIMUS, a nationally-recognized educational technology provider,
through a competitive request for proposals process to design the system.

"The new data system gives us a much-needed upgrade in the way we perform vital
special education activities, and demonstrates our continuing commitment to
improving outcomes for our students with disabilities," Chancellor Klein said. "New
York City students receiving special education services have made gains in recent
years, and the new system will allow us to manage the resources dedicated to these
students more efficiently."

"The Special Education Student Information System is another step in our continuing
efforts to honor our obligation to improve our support for students with
disabilities in ways recommended by an independent review of special education
services," said Dr. Marcia V. Lyles, Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning.
"There is widespread enthusiasm for this project, which will clearly improve how we
provide services to students with disabilities."

"The Department of Education desperately needs a new system for tracking special
education data," said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children.
"Under the current system they are unable to track their performance in providing
essential services to students with disabilities with any kind of accuracy. A new
data system is essential to helping the Department of Education improve its delivery
of special education services and, we hope, will be a key step to holding the
Department of Education accountable for the education of this vulnerable
population."

MAXIMUS and the Department of Education have already begun to develop SESIS, and the
system will be installed in selected schools in the fall of 2009 and rolled out in
stages through the spring of 2011. The contract with MAXIMUS is for $54.9 million
over five years. The Department of Education expects to spend an additional $23.7
million in internal costs during that time. Approximately 80 percent of the total
cost will be covered with capital funding.

            The Department of Education was represented pro bono during the
contracting process by attorneys in the New York office of the law firm
of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, led by partner Stephen D. Kahn, and
associates Caroline P. Geiger and Vidgis Bronder.