Special education, usually a Republican priority, could face cuts of $557 million, if a bill introduced by House Republicans last Friday passes.
The measure, which would continue federal funding for rest of the fiscal year, takes aim at some programs that were previously considered untouchable, including special education spending and Pell Grants to help low-and-moderate income students pay for college. Overall it would cut $4.9 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal year 2010 budget of $63.7 billion.
“This absolutely would be the largest cuts ever in history for education programs,” said Joel Packer, a principal with the Raben Group in Washington, who works with the Committee for Education Funding, a coalition that advocates for increasing education spending.
Programs that would be ‘scrapped entirely’ include: Even Start Family Literacy program ($66.5 million); Striving Readers program ($250 million); Literacy Through School Libraries ($19 million). In additional, earmarked funds for the Special Olympics, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research, will be cut.
You can read the full list of cuts to education and other departments here.
It’s unlikely the cuts will make it through the Senate, which is currently controlled by Democrats. But the very mention of cuts to special education suggests that parents and disability advocates need to get ready to defend the programs and services that make a huge difference in the lives of so many.
For over a decade, while hearing about a multitude of other medical, biomedical, dietary, and alternative treatments for autism, my husband Jim Fisher and I have steadfastly insisted that education is our priority in preparing Charlie for the future. Not providing children with disabilities with an appropriate education is—I can’t state it more simply—foolhardy at best. My son’s experiences offer a case in point.
I’m writing this post while preparing for my son Charlie’s annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting. Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and has always required special education services. He has very limited language and communication skills, a history of extremely difficult behavior issues (including self-injurious behaviors), and many academic and cognitive challenges. He can read a few sight words and so some very rudimentary arithmetic. He writes his name rather illegibly.
Charlie has had quite an educational odyssey over the past decade and, at some points, has had so many behavior issues that one school district’s behavior consultant starting talking about a ‘temporary residential placement.’ After many years of struggling to have him attend a self-contained special education program in a public school (with a student-to-teacher ratio of 1::1), just over a year ago my husband and I knew that Charlie would be better off attending a county center where all the students have disabilities (autism, cerebral palsy, and other diagnoses). After a very difficult start, Charlie has settled into his school and likes it and his teachers very much. Furthermore, his behavior issues at home have lessened.
Charlie turns 14 in May and will be moving up to a secondary-level classroom where the emphasis will be increasingly on vocational training. This is a focus that we welcome, as it prepares Charlie for the rest of his life—though be assured, I could never have said this to you when my boy was first diagnosed with autism in July of 1999, or when we learned that Charlie would not be able to attend a kindergarten classroom, as the extent of his disabilities necessitated that he remain in a special education setting. But the first lessons Charlie learned–to look at his teacher and listen—have made it possible for him to learn skills like stocking shelves, assembling items, janitorial skills. Without years of education, by trained teachers and therapists, he would not have the skills he does and, most likely, not be able to talk. And he would not be living with us.
Training Charlie and individuals with disabilities to have jobs, to take care of themselves, and to live as independently as possible does require having adequate levels of staffing, appropriate programs, and facilities and transportation. All of these things require spending money now and, yes, sometimes they require a lot funding. It is always funds well spent: Far better to pay for special education now so, instead of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for life in an institutional placement where individuals require round-the-clock-care, kids like Charlie can grow up living with their families and be ready to have jobs and make their contribution to society.
Photo by lynnefeatherstone.
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