The new American Health Care Act (AHCA) will be a disaster for children with special needs. The GOP still doesn’t discuss what those cuts will mean to children with disabilities, even though they appear to be praying awfully hard.
Back in May, in a PBS report with Judy Woodruff, correspondent William Brangham told us that Medicaid cuts and the effects on children with disabilities weren’t part of the GOP debate. The current bill could mean major cuts to Medicaid, up to $880 billion over 10 years.
On the same PBS program, Sasha Pudelski with the School Superintendents Association reminded us that the federal commitment to fund special education has never been fulfilled. Medicaid has been filling this gap.
It’s not kids that are breaking the Medicaid bank, if the bank is even being broken, which I contend it’s not.
But when you look at who benefits from Medicaid, 46 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries are kids. But one out of every five dollars spent on Medicaid is spent on children. So it’s a really efficient way of spending dollars on children’s health care in this country.
And Betsy? Where, oh where, is Betsy DeVos on this serious issue?
How strange that she is not advocating for children with disabilities since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal mandate. Is she still leaving special education up to the states?
Betsy DeVos, has not been seen or heard talking about the health care needs of our most vulnerable children. I guess she is too busy promoting vouchers and for-profit colleges.
What Will Students Lose?
Education Week provided a copy of the letter signed by 50 organizations concerned with the negative effects this health care plan will have on children if it is made into law. I have condensed the highlights of those losses here.
- Fewer health services. This will be most pronounced in urban and rural areas.
- General education cuts. Schools that can’t find the money to support children with disabilities will divert funds from general education to meet the requirements of IDEA. But what will happen if they eventually run out of funds?
- Higher taxes. When Medicaid reimbursements for special education are canceled, school districts could increase property taxes or new levies to fund services.
- Job loss. Medicaid pays the salaries of school nurses, physical and occupational therapists, speech-language specialists, social workers, school psychologists, and critical personnel to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
- Fewer resources. School districts won’t be able to purchase wheelchairs, hydraulic changing tables, therapeutic bicycles, walkers, weighted vests, and other materials that help students work with their non-disabled peers.
- Fewer mental health supports. Students receiving mental health services would be left without care.
The Effects on School Districts
The loss of Medicaid funding for students with special needs is illustrated well in The New York Times article, which tells of a Medicaid coordinator in Illinois who oversees more than 20 school districts who benefit from such assistance for a variety of services for children. Medicaid currently provides those schools with speech therapy, medical equipment, and much more.
The National Alliance for Medicaid in Education estimates that 1 percent of all Medicaid reimbursement goes to local school districts. Even without the funding, school districts would be legally required to provide special education services.
Remembering How Far Special Education has Come
It’s important to remember the changes that have occurred in the last 45 years to the schooling needs of children with disabilities. Those changes have been phenomenal!
Yet, public schools and teachers have never received the praise they deserve for serving all children, especially those with the most severe disabilities—despite never having the adequate funds to do so. Many families are able to enjoy their children at home because of it.
Ending Special Education With Medicaid Cuts?
If Medicaid is cut, what will happen to those students and families who have relied upon such services and equipment for years? Because of a thoughtless health care plan, the revolutionary changes that have assisted children are in jeopardy.
It’s easy to wonder, since special education has always been underfunded, are these cuts intentional? Is this the final blow to special education?
We have certainly seen signs that there are those who want to eliminate special education services. Remember Houston? The Texas Education Agency denied an estimated 250,000 children special education by creating a benchmark, an arbitrary number allowing only a few into the program.
Without Medicaid assistance, I wonder. Will the rights of children, parents and advocates have fought for all these years, be lost?
Will there be a return to institutionalization? Instead of asylums, where children lived in quiet desperation and often squalor, will there be instead, unregulated, fly-by-night charter schools that promise big, take tax dollars, and fail to deliver?
Let’s hope those who appeared so religiously devout yesterday, will receive answers to their prayers that are good and right and supportive of America’s children.
Klein, Alyson. “Fifty Education Groups Tell Congress: Reject the GOP Health Care Bill.” Education Week. March 22, 2017.