Thursday, January 15, 2009

if the army had to hold a bakesale

I was thinking of a protest slogan from the Vietnam War era, "Wouldn't it be great if our schools had all the money they needed and the military had to hold a bakesale to buy a bomber?" when I attended the school board meeting this week. 

Special Education parents had rallied to discuss the many items on the list of budget reductions that included firing nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, classroom aides,  and others.  

The JROTC program was also on the reductions list-- to reduce the army officer teachers to two, and combine the 100 students into two classes. (That may sound like a lot of students per teacher, but most high school teachers-- math, English, science, history etc-- see over 120 students daily.) The JROTC staff had really helped the students to organize and prepare for the meeting, bringing in community members, family and students to speak very passionately in favor of the program.  They had speakers address the board for nearly an hour. 

Somehow in all of this, the special education parents who came to speak were shuffled to the end of the meeting and their time was cut from three minutes each to one minute each.  It seemed like an accidental oversight or mistake, but it really felt that we, that our children, mattered less. It did not help that Mr. Eberhardt, the board president, told every special ed speaker to "wrap it up." 

One of the JROTC staff said, "We are not here to recruit your children... this is a leadership program. We could have used the McDonald's model. But we used the Army model." Yes, but if the program did use the McDonald's model, the Army wouldn't  pay for it. Why? Uh, well, it is a recruitment program.  

Why is this a special education topic? 

The Army funds the JROTC at 50%. The federal government does not fund IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities in Special Education Act) to even the mandated 40% level that Congress wrote into the law. 

For this posting I am putting aside all of my rants about the Army reducing its own IQ standard to increase recruiting for the current wars, the ACLUs public position that U.S. military recruiting practices among minors violates international laws,  and my convictions that Kurt Hahn and James Williams were right, there is a moral equivalent to war;  all my reasons for thinking the military does not belong in schools at all. 

For this post, my question is: given the sheer size of the military budget, and the drastic state of educational funding, should the army kick in the other fifty percent for JROTC? Why is our district paying for a military recruitment program at all? If the program is that valuable to to the army, then let them fund it. 

Or at least they could help the special education department hold a bake sale. They do a lot of community service, and what a great photo op for the army's new humanitarian image to have those handsome, uniformed cadets helping my daughter in her wheelchair as she tries to sell cupcakes outside the district office! 

I've noticed the army still has not had to hold their own bakesale. 

Is there a moral equivalent to war? It just might be funding IDEA, maybe even 50%. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

California's deep cuts to SpED

The governor that recalled a governor because the budget in California was not balanced cannot balance the budget. Things have become incredibly chaotic under the Governator than they ever were under Pete Wilson. 

Just last week, school districts, which compose their budgets for the 08-09 school year in June (six months ago), were told that they had to make additional cuts for this year. That means they have to figure out how to unspend money already spent. This after making deep cuts for the current year last spring. (Confused? That is because the whole process does not make sense-- does your paycheck get revised after it is in the bank?)
Who is in charge up there? Why are Californians not storming the capitol? 
What this means in the real world, not the land of magical thinking that Schwatzenager seems to occupy, is that classes are being combined mid-year, assistants, nurses, speech therapists are being fired mid-year and schools that somehow managed to hang onto music and athletics are losing them mid-year. One child said to the board: It seems like we just got music back, and now you are taking it away again! 
Last night, our board had to figure out how to make an additional 16 million dollars worth of cuts. Line by line, they went through the budget. News flash! Education is not a huge wasteful enterprise, not some pork barrel project. It is actually a pretty lean, efficient system. Well, lean. It would be more efficient with more money, actually.  So, line by line, the community looked for the corporate jet and the martini lunches, the tax sheltered golf games, the trips to conferences at exotic resorts. They just are not there. The corporate holiday party for teachers at my child's school was a box of fudge and a thank you card brought by parents and a pot luck lunch brought by teachers.  

So what they cut is jobs.

And how is laying off all of these people-- groundskeepers, custodians, carpenters, music teachers, coaches, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses, teachers' aides-- how exactly does that help our state economy? Now we have more people needing unemployment, in danger of losing their homes... how does that help? 
The mantra of the right that we have a spending problem is just getting to threadbare. The whole party wants to patch the holes in their seats. They don't seem to realize they are wearing the emperor's clothes and there is nothing to patch.
As a California home owner (there are still some left) our family pays less in property taxes than the state pays per year to educate two typically developing children. We have three kids, one with special needs. Those taxes need to also cover water systems, fire services, hiway patrol, 911. In short, we make a profit on our taxes and our state government. 
We do NOT have a spending problem. We have a revenue problem.  MORE NEW TAXES!
Congratulations to the right-- you have finally managed to cripple the finest public education system ever built.  The only system ever attempt to educate all it's citizens regardless of race, class, religious affiliation, gender or disability; to attempt to educate all citizens equally; to invest in social mobility and cultivate talent from every sector of society is now on it's knees, thanks to your strangle hold on funds and your anti-education agenda. Your loathing for this great equalizer has finally born fruit. The schools that can actually educate function only because they are supported by wealthy PTAs and private foundations, while the schools attended by poor and working class families are falling apart. Parents of typically developing children are calling for cuts to special education. One parent described what is happening to our district as "death by a thousand cuts." 
I suppose next spring you'll be complaining about test scores and blaming children, parents and teachers for those too. I blame you. I know how hard those teachers work, and how much time we spend on homework and at board meetings. Now you, the legislature, need to do your part. We need more teachers, smaller classes, more supplies and enough money to heat the buildings. Oh-- that stuff is not free. 

Shame, shame, shame on us for letting the legislature get away with this. Let's take the week off, hop on those district funded jets, go up to the capitol and demand a rescue package for our school system. And afterwards, we can go out for cocktails and plan our next golf vacation...

For more on this issue, see the article in the SF Chronicle:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sarah Palin, Where are you?

Hi Sarah,

I hope things are going well with Trig's Early Intervention. How is Trig? Is he sitting up? How is the feeding going? How is occupational therapy? Physical therapy? What are you learning about special needs children?

Have you looked into special education in Wasilla yet, or will you keep Trig in anchorage? Our small town could not provide for our daughter, so we moved. It is a hard decision, but we do what we need to do for them, right?

I am wondering, as one working mom to another, how you and your partner juggle the schedule. We found a great parent participation early intervention program, but it was 20 hours a week-- more with home therapies. I ended up taking a year of family leave. Thank the voters for family medical leave, huh?

So, where have you been? After all that talk about funding IDEA and early intervention, I figured you would be out there with us this year. 

Maybe in a couple years. I don't think I had a moment to rest until my daughter was in second grade. Maybe we'll hear from you again about special ed once you catch your breath. I just keep hoping there is a larger purpose to you having this baby, besides of course the baby, which might be purpose enough. But we sure could use your voice, if you get a chance. 

IDEA needs you. Trig needs IDEA. Hang in there.