Mark Claypool left social work jaded by how special education students were shuffled around and ignored in public schools. He had one radical idea: The best way to teach special education students would be to turn a profit while doing it.
“It would have been more traditional to do this in a not-for-profit fashion,” Claypool said. “But the CEO for a not-for-profit walks around with his hand out all day long to keep the doors open and the lights turned on. I didn’t want to do that.”
Claypool founded Educational Services of America in Nashville in 1999 as one of the few companies even attempting to make money by running special education private schools.
With programs in 16 states, ESA owns and operates more than 120 private and charter schools. It hires the teachers and sets up the curriculum for about 7,800 students with learning, developmental or behavioral problems.
Critics from within public education have said it’s wrong and ineffective to turn a profit off special education students, but the company generated $75 million in revenue this year, and Claypool expects revenue to grow to $90 million next year. The privately owned company would not disclose profits.