The high cost of educating students with special needs is disproportionately falling on traditional public schools as other students increasingly opt for alternatives that aren't always readily open to those requiring special education.
The issue is particularly acute in districts where enrollment has declined due to demographic changes such as low birth rates and population shifts combined with an influx of charter schools and voucher programs that have siphoned off students.
School district officials say all schools that receive public funds should share the cost of special education.
"It raises an ethical responsibility question," said Eric Gordon, chief executive officer of Cleveland Metropolitan School District. "We welcome our students with special needs, but the most expensive programming is on public districts."