Have you noticed that your child with Autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities is getting less attention from their special ed teacher this year? That their special ed teacher is particularly worn-out, fatigued – maybe even at wit’s end this early in the year? Well, there’s a reason for that. The most recent data gathered by the Washington, DC-based IDEA MoneyWatch shows how severely the states and the 100 largest school districts have cut special ed funding. Just this year in my work as a sped attorney in South Florida, I’ve seen some kids with Autism or severe ADHD being placed in classrooms with intellectually disabled kids primarily because it’s cheaper than giving them the support they’re entitled to in a general ed class!
How are they able to get away with this, you ask. Well, the surprising truth is that the Obama Administration is allowing school districts to reduce their special ed funding by outrageous amounts in some cases and to do so permanently. No one is sure exactly why the Obama Administration would explicitly (see below) allow districts to do this, except perhaps to make some friends at a time when they are low in the polls.
The details: You might remember that a few years ago Obama granted economic stimulus monies (called “ARRA” funds) in the billions to school districts – particularly for special education and low-income students. That money has now been spent – no surprise there. But during that time – before it was spent – school districts were allowed to cut back on the amounts they were spending on special education because they were getting increased federal money. Well, last June the Obama administration officially told them that they can continue cutting their special education funds even though they’re no longer getting extra federal money! You might imagine that in these tough budgetary times school districts are just thrilled to cut back on sped funding and use the money to meet other obligations.
So, what does this all mean to you as the parent of a special needs child? The school district I practice in – Miami-Dade County Public Schools – is the fourth largest in the country, and just this year I’ve seen some horrendous examples of how these budget cuts impact kids day-to-day. Here’s an example. My client – let’s call her Emily – attends general education classes for Social Studies and Science but is in a special ed “pull-out” resource room for Math and Language Arts. Because of this year’s budget cuts, there’s only a single special ed teacher in the entire elementary school of over 700 students! That means that when this one teacher – let’s call her Mrs. Arnold – is at IEP meetings as required by law, which is sometimes multiple times per week for several hours, or when Mrs. Arnold is sick or is attending a training, etc, there is no one teaching Emily or the other kids in her class. Emily is supposed to get specialized instruction in Math and Language Arts daily and is also entitled to collaboration and support in the general education setting for Science and Social Studies according to her IEP. Yet, there is no special ed teacher to give her those services when Mrs. Arnold is at an IEP meeting, sick, etc. Needless to say, that is against the federal law known as the IDEA. In fact, it probably also violates other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sound familiar? In my school district and all over the country parents are banding together to stand up for our kids. Give us support and “Like” us at our Facebook page – www.Facebook.com/ParentsforKids
Allison Hertog, Esq., M.A.