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.