I say, no cuts for Special Education!

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Education, Learning Disabilties
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Some of the news today about the budget has me a bit irked.  It is my understanding that President Obama knows what it means to invest in our children so that we have a better tomorrow.  Though the increase is small ($14.8 billion for Title I grants to help districts cover the cost of educating disadvantaged students—a $300 million increase over fiscal 2010. And it is asking for $11.7 billion for special education, $200 million over 2010), it shows me that he is committed to providing a good education for the children of the United States.  And, as part of the proposal for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the No Child Left Behind Act), the administration is asking for $300 million for a program called Title I rewards, to recognize schools that are making progress in boosting student achievement.  These initiatives show me that he believes we need to do more for those children that need more help when it comes to education.

On the other extreme, I hear that the GOP want to cut the education budget.  House Republican leaders have put out a bill that would cut education funding far below current levels and far below what President Barack Obama wanted.  I have read that it takes aim at programs such as special education spending.  Joel Packer, principal at Raben Group in Washington who works with the Committee for Education Funding, said, “This absolutely would be the largest cut ever in history for education programs.”  The excuse the Republicans are giving is the cuts are needed to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.

Representative Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement:

Lawmakers “have weeded out excessive, unnecessary, and wasteful spending, making tough choices to prioritize programs based on their effectiveness and benefit to the American people. My committee has taken a thoughtful look at each and every one of the programs we intend to cut, and have made determinations based on this careful analysis.”

With this statement is he saying that our educational system is not effective and has no benefit to the American people?  He has to be kidding or is a complete idiot.  The children of the United States are this country’s future.  The investment in our children is more precious  and necessary than any other investment we may have.  If we don’t invest in our children there is no future. 

I ask, whose fault is it that the education system is ineffective?  To make improvements in the educational system you need to first admit there is a problem.  You also have to commit your time to solving the problem.  This country has no future if we don’t put the education of our children as our highest priority. 

Under the GOP proposal, Title I would be cut by $693.5 million. It’s not clear if that means just Title I grants to districts, which got $14.5 million in fiscal year 2010, or if the cut would also affect Title I School Improvement Program, which got $545 million in fiscal 2010.

With this proposal special education would be cut by $557 million, below its $11.5 billion funding in fiscal 2010.  Head Start was targeted for the one of the biggest reductions: a $1 billion cut below fiscal 2010.

House Education Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) said,

We have, for over 35 years, fallen short of our commitment, the government’s commitment, to fund special education and provide relief to every school in America…We need to get that base up and let our superintendents, our principals, our teachers, our parents, our families know that money is going to be there for the long-term.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has asked for a $200 million increase in special education funding in its fiscal year 2012 budget.  The Obama administration in its fiscal 2011 budget had proposed consolidating smaller programs into broader funding streams. For instance, smaller literacy programs would have been combined into a big competitive fund aimed at improving reading and writing.

But, under the House bill, those programs would be scrapped entirely, including:

• Even Start Family Literacy program: $66.5 million

• Mathematics and Science partnerships: $180 million

• Striving Readers program: $250 million

• The Obama administration’s $50 million high school graduation initiative, which is a fairly new program

• Literacy Through School Libraries: $19 million

• Education Technology State Grants: $100 million

• Foreign Language Assistance: $26.9 million

• The National Writing Project: $25.6 million

• Ready-to-Learn Television: $27.3 million

• Civic Education: $35 million

• Elementary and Secondary School Counseling: $55 million

• Smaller Learning Communities: $88 million

• Tech Prep State Grants: $102 million

• Teacher Quality Partnerships: $43 million

Even some prized education reform programs with deep political connections would be slashed:

• New Leaders for New Schools would be cut by $5 million.

• Teach for America would lose its $18 million appropriation.

• The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would lose its $10.6 appropriation.

In the list of proposed cuts released by the House Appropriations Committee, the reduction in special education funding is hidden as “part b grants to states.”  This refers to Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which, as the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities is the foundation upon which special education and related services are derived from.

My biggest concerns are the cuts aimed at Special Education.  Our educational system needs to be improved.  The media have written many stories about how poor education is in American and how other countries are surpassing us.  All of this commentary is regarding the mainstream education.  If the mainstream education is having issues, what do you think is happening in the area of Special Education?  Belive me, it is even worse.

Schools are struggling to provide education for those students who are disadvantaged and need special accommodations.  The struggle is caused by two things.  The first issue is funding.  Nothing irritates me more than when I sit in my son’s IEP meeting and the first discussion is how they are going to fund the accommodations needed for my son.  The second issue is available expertise to be able to teach these children.  Today there is so much information about children and some of the disorders that hamper their forward movement.  Examples include:  autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.  I don’t believe we truly understand these impairments, and as a result of this don’t understand how to teach a child who suffers from them. 

So, let me use my self and my son as an example.  My son has epilepsy, diabetes, and Tourette Syndrome.  There are also some comorbid disorders that come with these, which includes ADHD, high functioning autism, and other learning disabilities.  For the last nine years my family has seen doctors and specialist to find that cure that would make his life livable.  We are constantly doing research and it is almost like the search for the holy grail.  Dealing with the health issues is exasperating, but then you add the issues with education it then appears to be hopeless. 

We have struggled to get the accommodations needed for our son to get an education.  He is 2 -3 grades behind in reading and math.  It is my opinion he wouldn’t be so far behind, but the system is broken and the school system is letting him down.  For a time I hired a private tutor to work with him, but I can no longer afford this.  I am very frustrated, and I worry about what is going to happen to my son when he becomes an adult.  Will he be able to get a job and take care of himself?  I am not so sure, and if his education continues as it has been the future looks pretty bleak.

Now I am hearing that there could possibly be cuts in the budget for Special Education.  This is the complete opposite of what we need.  There needs to be an increase in the investment of our children’s education, including the ones who need Special Education.  Our school system needs our help.  I am sure they are not happy hearing the reports that they are failing.  I know they don’t want to fail, but they need help solving the problem.  A new approach needs to be defined.  We need to really identify what the problem is.  Right now we are just seeing the residual effects that arise due to the problem.  A root cause analysis needs to be done.  Identify the specific problem.  Identify the correction measures.  Implement the correction measures.  And then evaluate the effectiveness of the measures.  We need a task force to accept this challenge.  Nothing is more important than the investment into our children.  There is no tomorrow without this. 



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