Friday, March 6, 2009

Low Incidence Funding

Taking care of students with low incidence disabilities is, well, expensive. And school districts labor under the weight of the expense. (IDEA funding is really important!) Recently our board president mentioned that the special education budget is a quarter of the whole annual budget. This figure surprised me, since our special education population is 13% (roughly) of our total population. So? How is that good?

So that means for our district SpED kids are only twice as expensive as kids in regular education. 

I actually know my kid is far more than twice as expensive. And I want to support our school to support her, and my two typically developing kids too. As they close schools and libraries and fire hard working employees and cut athletics and electives, I feel the anger as much as anyone, and some guilt that my child with a disability does not get enough funding to support my district's services to her. Services which are and ought to be protected by law. No one would school her without the law, as history already has shown. 

Low incidence disabilities are defined by California law to be "hearing impairments, vision impairments, severe orthopedic impairments, or any combination thereof".  In our district, that is a lot of kids. We have a whole program for kids with hearing impairments, visual impairments and several special day classes that serve kids with severe orthopedic handicaps. 

Low incidence kids receive low incidence funds to help with specialized equipment and services such as specialized books, materials, and equipment and services such as interpreters, note takers, readers, transcribers, and others.

That's great right? 

Wait until you see the funding formulae:
Local agencies (districts and SELPAs) that serve 25 or fewer students who have low incidence disabilities will receive base funding of $2,000, plus $29.85 per student. Such SELPAs are designated as “sparse” and are eligible to apply for additional funding to serve students with low incidence disabilities. SELPAs serving 26 or more students who have low incidence disabilities will receive base funding of $5,000, plus $29.85 per pupil. 

I'll guess that we are not a sparse SELPA, so notice that there is no provision for additional funding for us. Still, isn't $5000/26 + 29.85 kind of, well, enough? 

If we had 26 kids, that would be $222.16 per kid. With more kids, it is less per kid since the $5000 is divided among the total. So, how much does a kid with low incidence disability need? 

I'll take my kid for an example. Did I mention that with her new computer she is doing grade level work? That they discovered she can read? She can add and subtract? Here are some of her needs as annual expenses that are above and beyond what her sisters need:
  • $30,000  a full time assistant to help with toileting, feeding and choking precautions, seizure management and computer work
  • $900 (amortized over three years) for a positioning chair for feeding and computer work
  • ?? bussing to her school, not our neighborhood school, which has no program for her
  • $15,000 (amortized over five years and shared among three students) an eye gaze accessible computer for math, reading, spelling, science, social studies 
  • ?? and associated software
  • $50,000 nurse (shared among several kids) to administer seizure medications (required by laws lobbied for by the California School Nurses Association, not medically necessary)
  • special day class (reduced class size, increased teacher cost)
  • $150 Head pointer for painting, drawing and art
So the good news? The head pointer was covered.

The bad news? Kids are being left behind. Schools in California are shamefully underfunded and the governor's budget this year is a travesty, a cruelty, an abomination. But things would be so much better if IDEA were fully funded and if everyone had a realistic idea of what special education really costs. 

It is not that special education is horribly inefficient and wasteful, it is really that there are quite a few kids with extraordinary needs that are very expensive. 

So, as I have said many times before, it is a choice. Do we or do we not support special education? Because support means fund. As in provide for the support of, as in provide material support for. Not cheer from the sidelines, not be a fair weather fan. Not claim to love "those beautiful kids" and support their rights to a free and appropriate education and then complain about how expensive FAPE is and look to cut the budget. not say one thing and do another. 

Not to act all shocked and appalled that special education costs twice what regular ed does when you KNOW how much it costs. Exactly. 

Did I mention my daughter can read? How much would it be worth to you to discover that about your eight year old child, who had not been able to talk since she was 19 months? What would you pay to get a Valentine's card that she wrote specially for you, herself, on her computer? What would you pay to hear your eight year old for the the first time EVER you heard I LIKE MOM? What would you pay? 

Support the child, fund special education. They are worth it. If you don't think so, come meet my child, then tell me so. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Accessibility in Yosemite

Two weeks ago I went to Yosemite with my mother, who has Parkinson's. It was her Christmas wish to visit Yosemite in the winter-- a place she had spent many happy hours in her youth but never seen in snow.

Here is my rundown on accessibility in our flagship national park, revised based on experience. Ironically, when I asked about accessibility I was told by a staff member who had clearly been trained to respond to this, "As a national park, we are a federal government agency and comply with all aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

With over 4 million visitors a year, many of these foreign nationals who come from countries with no legal status or protections for persons with disabilities, Yosemite is an opportunity to show the world a particular American strength: Universal Design.

For all the urbanization, YNP falls sadly short of the vision of ADA. Just like home, urban does not equal accessible.

F: PARKING/ENTRANCE WALKS: The handicapped parking is located across the bus loading drive-through from the entrance to the lobby, and the curb cuts take one across a wandering path with no cross walks. At one point we started through one curb cut to cross the street and had to look for the other, which was located diagonally across but not marked. The handicapped entrance is what my brother in law Jim used to resentfully call a "servants entrance" about a 50 yard detour away from the front steps up a ramp that is out of sight of the public. The Awahnee entrance is much better.

F: WALKWAYS: It had been snowing when we arrived, and while the stairs and walks for the general public were shoveled, the ramps and curb cuts were not. When checking in with my mother (in her chair) I explained that we needed a room we could access (I was thinking ahead of the snow). The nice young man at the counter assured me this was and sent us across the road, through a parking lot and down snow covered walks to a room several hundred yards and a few snow banks away. We came back and requested a different room. When I suggested we should preview the room to see if we could actually get there, he was less than helpful. The rooms are all located in separate outside buildings with few covered walks, so shoveling is essential. I crossed several areas by running my mom's chair at full speed through the snow and shoveled our own walks into our room.

D ROOMS: One can reserve an accessible room, which we did not because the only accessible rooms have only one queen bed and a roll away and like people with a disability, we were traveling with children. The regular rooms are completely inaccessible, the doors to the bathrooms are to narrow even for a walker. The showers are inside standard tubs and there are no grab bars anywhere.

C CAFETERIA: The chairs are too close in the dining room. No one offered assistance, in spite of the fact that we clearly needed help. Many things are too high to reach.

B+: The new trail to the Yosemite falls bridge is very nice, as is the valley floor trail from the lodge into the meadow. The only issue we had is, once again, the curbcuts from our rooms were missing, so that we had to take a long detour to then roll through the parking lot before we could find an accessible entrance to the trail. Everyone else? Cross the street in a cross walk. BOOO.

B+: We went here for dinner one evening. Surprisingly, this historical landmark was the most accessible in the park. We did not see the rooms, however. In spite of the fact that the only accessible bathroom was up the elevator (unpleasant but not uncommon.) There was an accessibility map in the lobby, unlike in the lodge, showing where all the accessible trails and restrooms are. The staff were respectful and helpful, a difficult balance to strike, in my experience. Even in the national parks, It is good to be wealthy, especially if you have a disability.

F: Now, if you have not a disability yourself, you might say a ski area does not need to be accessible (which this is absolutely not- stairs everywhere, no ADA bathroom, and of course, snow and no covered walks). We did not even find ADA parking. But if they offer adaptive ski lessons (call two weeks ahead)- don't you think they would make the lodge and ski school accessible? Good thing my mom opted not to come up and instead hung out at the lodge napping and drinking hot chocolate. Too bad she did not get to see her grandchildren ski. It would have been nice if she could have hung at the ski lodge and watched from the window.

F: We could not even get into Curry, due to the snow. Or the ice rink (again, she wanted to watch her grandkids skate for the first time). I'll have to go back in summer to evaluate this part without snow.

C: Thank goodness they have kneeling busses. And wheelchair spaces. The driver was very nice- always a plus. Unfortunately, she did not know how to use the wheelchair tie downs, and when I showed her how she explained that she had asked when they were trained on these new accessible models and the trainer told her she did not know how herself, and did not think it was important! How lame is that? The park service invests in new ADA compliant busses and then does not properly train the drivers in their use.

So, for all the urbanization of this natural wonder, there is little to recommend it in terms of accessibility. That is a shame. So much of the development in the park is to make it seem more familiar, less strange and wild-- really to make it seem more accessible to the masses of able bodied people. It is tragic, in my opinion, that this development has made it more like home and less of a natural wonder, a place to connect with the serene, the tranquil, with wild. I have always resented the intrusion of fast food, ATMs, markets full of fake indian goods made in other countries, many low quality restaurants that highlight the worst genres of American food. I would resent it less if the city were actually were accessible, because at least accessible development would be for the purpose of making Yosemite the experience that Muir and Roosevelt meant it to be, a "tonic for the soul", instead of simply familiar in all the worst ways.