Saturday, January 10, 2009

IDEA- fund special ed!

The Right says we have a spending problem.  I agree. 

The problem is that the federal government is NOT spending it's legal share of funds on the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act). 

IDEA is the law that requires schools to provide a free and appropriate education to students with disabilities. Appropriate, in lay terms, means a kid not only gets to go to school, but they get to go and learn. 

Why do we have this law? In 1970, according to the IDEA website, only one in five children with disabilities were in school. Many states had laws barring children with disabilities from attending public schools, including children who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded. It was simply expensive and states did not want to do it. 

They still don't. California has been shirking it's duty for years by funding the Cost of Living Adjustment for regular education teachers but not special education teachers. California does this because the federal government does not fully fund IDEA, and California does not want to make up the funding difference. 

That is why local districts pay so much for special education. IDEA requires every state to provide a free education to every child, even children with disabilities. 

The feds knew in passing IDEA that they would be adding enormous expenses to schooling. At the time, it was as radical a step as Brown V. Board of Education, desegregating schools, and a lot more expensive. It meant that kids in diapers, kids in wheel chairs, kids with feeding tubes, kids on ventilators, kids with diabetes, kids who needed computers, kids with all kinds of expensive, hard to figure out needs would be in school and have a legal right to the help and support they needed. And the hope was that they would do better, live better, even learn, that some would become more independent, cost less later and even make society better. Some would just do better, and that would be better too. 

Taking care of children with special needs is not only morally right, and preferable to most people than euthanasia and abortion, it is pragmatic. Children like mine, who cannot speak, may learn to use a computer. Sure, assistive technology is expensive. My kid's computer (a My Tobii) cost $15,000! But, she will never play sports, never sing in the choir, never play an instrument, never take driver's education, never hold a pencil or a paint brush, never go to the prom. (Maybe the prom, maybe!) But the computer!? On her computer my second grader is doing math, and reading, and writing for the first time! We don't know yet how much she can do, but no one knew she could read, or add, or even think.  She might be able to earn a living  or some of her living, someday. That means the money we invest in special education now means that our typical kids might not have to pay so much for so long to keep kids like my daughter once we are dead. And even if she doesn't to leave a whole human being who can read and think trapped in her body for forty years? 

Well, you decide. What would you do? What will you do? We have to decide what kind of society we want to build. Will we fund IDEA or not? If we won't fund it, we should just be honest and go back to the way it was. 

The alternative to IDEA is history: institutions, boarding schools, orphanages and doctors who used to tell parents to give up this child, forget you had her. Personally, I am proud of this vision. I can't go so far as to say my daughter's disability is a gift from a higher power to her or me, but I agree with right, she is sacred. And the left, she should have rights. Maybe one day, we will be worthy of the vision of IDEA.

We have a spending problem. Let's fix it. Fund IDEA now. Special Education families could use the help of all families on this. Pass it on: we all have everything to gain. Pass it on: without your help to fix the funding problem, IDEA is really no IDEA at all.