In order for the nation to get back their public schools they have to realize what they’re losing. This is especially true for special education. For years, across the nation we have seen an eroding of services for students with disabilities.
In Texas, denying children their right to special education, since 2004, came in the form of an arbitrary cap that rejected students from getting the assistance they needed. Texas enrollment in special education became the lowest in the nation at 8.5% as opposed to 13%. Authorities audited schools and punished those that went over the cap.
Texas set this “benchmark” while facing a $1.1 billion state budget cut. They didn’t ask the federal government for help.
Children who had every right to quality special education were denied services.
But let’s not forget the U.S. Department of Education’s push to get rid of services.
“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said.
It sounded so nice, but he was essentially proposing denying special education services to students.
Or, remember when the U.S. Department of Education insisted that the New York Board of Education force students with disabilities to take tests matching their chronological age, not their developmental age, ignoring their cognitive disabilities? Only those with the most severe disabilities were exempt.
Did the U.S. Department of Education know what the Texas Education Agency was doing with the cap on special education services?
And it wasn’t just Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration. We can go all the way back to the signing of Public Law 94-142 to see how politicians and education reformers did not want to spend money on serving students with disabilities.
Slowly and methodically, politicians and school reformers have chipped away at special education services in our public schools.
For all these years, how many students with disabilities did not receive the academic and social attention, and the mental health assistance that was legally afforded to them? It may have been bad in Texas, but it hasn’t been much better in other places either–just more subtle perhaps.
So now the parents in Texas are angry. They are crying in Houston. They’re rising up in Dallas. In Austin they want better for their children.
These are parents with children they love—with learning disabilities, deafness, who struggle with ADHD, and a variety of other special education issues that can and should be addressed in their public schools.
These students are not to be cast aside. They can and will learn great things with good public schooling.
But watch out Texas parents, because your governor is sneakily trying to switch better public school services over to choice. But what choices will you get? Substandard charters with untrained teachers? Or, private schools that you have to supplement exorbitant fees for? This is privatization in motion.
And where will you find the laws to protect your child’s rights? Gone and forgotten. Replaced with a system that is accountable to no one.
IDEA rights, as a general rule, will not extend to children and youth with disabilities who participate in voucher programs. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act will still apply to the administration of the voucher program but not to most activities of the private school.
I believe parents in Texas are now too savvy to fall for the false promise of school choice. I am hopeful they will bring back quality schooling for all children in the form of a continuum of services that provide real choices for children.
Parents are recognizing it is their child’s right—that public schools are supposed to legally assist their students, and that this is what a quality public school does in a country with such resources as ours.
We are not a poor nation! It is a matter of priorities. No matter what challenges a child faces, our public schools should be there to provide the best quality education.
Will Texas parents prevail? Will the rest of the country look more carefully at their district and state special education plans and demand better public services too? Will they reject false choice?
Isn’t it time for all of us to put our eyes on what’s important in this country?
Let’s hope parents in Texas set the example.