In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-142. The law guaranteed every child a free appropriate public education. This positively impacted millions of children across the country. The law was later reauthorized and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Many politicians never wanted to fund special education. From the start, there was no Rose Garden ceremony for signing the bill. Why? Shouldn’t such compassionate commitment to America’s kids be cause for a celebration? We should have been proud of a country that valued its children.
Since the signing of that law, we still have local, state, and federal policymakers who don’t want to pay for special education. IDEA gets in their way.
Now, corporate school reformers seek to privatize public schools and create charter schools for students with disabilities. When parents leave public schools they lose the protections afforded their child through IDEA.
This is not a poor nation. Legislators think nothing of giving the wealthiest Americans huge tax breaks. They find money to pay for what they prioritize.
Here are cost-cutting messages meant to destroy IDEA.
1. Special education needs to be reinvented.
This is another way of saying cut services. Usually the expense of programs is used to highlight the need for cuts.
Special education may need to change, but positive changes need funding.
For example, inclusion is great, but we need well-prepared teachers with credentials, and smaller class sizes. Good university programs need funding too, so teachers can get the right kind of preparation to work with students.
2. We need special education charter schools.
One person spreading this message is Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director and co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. Here is what she wrote about Vermont overhauling its special education program:
For nearly two decades, districts have been provided relatively generous reimbursements for providing special education services and granted more dollars for providing more services. Moving forward, they will be allocated a set amount of funding based on an analysis of historical averages but extended greater flexibility and decreased paperwork pertaining to how dollars are spent.
Less money, more flexibility to do what?
A lot of Rhim’s writings are meant to persuade parents and citizens that charter schools are better than real public schools for students with disabilities. But charters thus far have done little for students with disabilities. Students are often counseled out of attending charter schools, especially if they have behavior problems.
Rhim cites reports from other corporate reform groups like the Center for Reinventing Public Education.
Charter schools in general have never proven to be better than traditional public schools. The Network for Public Education tells of charter schools that repeatedly fail, wasting tax dollars. Why would we believe that charter schools would be better for students with disabilities?
3. We need to lessen the paperwork.
I don’t know any special education teacher who likes the huge amount of paperwork tied to Individual Educational Plans. Certainly these documents could be streamlined.
But I worry about this message at this time. IEPs involve a critical connection with parents and schools to ensure services for students. If these legal documents are tampered with in any way, will they destroy the student’s legal rights to a free appropriate public education? We already know of schools that don’t provide services like they should. Think Texas!
4. Response to Intervention (RTI) is necessary.
RTI assesses all children. Students are placed in different tiers according to their academic needs. The concern is that RTI replaces special education services.
It has been brought to the attention of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) that some local educational agencies (LEAs) may be using Response to Intervention (RTI) strategies to delay or deny a timely initial evaluation for preschool children suspected of having a disability.
5. Special Ed. Steals from General Ed. Services
Legislators strip funding from general education and special education. Both deserve decent funding.
But creating a tug of war with parents creates distrust of special education.
This ploy has been used for years to complain about special education funding. Mills v. Board of Education involved this argument as noted here:
The court added that if there were not enough funds available to provide all of the needed programming, then the board had to do its best to apportion the monies in such a way as to ensure that no child was denied the opportunity to benefit from a public school education. In sum, the court pointed out that the inadequacies present in the school system, whether caused by insufficient funding or poor administration, could not be allowed to impact more heavily on students with disabilities. To this end, the court ordered the board to adopt a detailed remedial plan in order to ensure that the children received their right to equal protection under the law.
6. Public schools are so bad that special ed. funding should go to vouchers.
This is another trick. Local school boards, state legislatures, and the federal government have cut funding to special education in public schools. Teachers struggle to make ends meet. Some quit.
When public schools turn into a shell of what they were, politicians push vouchers to private or substandard charters with no track record.
In the end, parents will pay for special education services. If they cannot afford to pay for a good private school, they will have to rely on charter schools. Or they will have to home school.
7. School districts need outside companies to evaluate special education.
If a superintendent does their job, why do they need to rely on outside companies to tell them what to do? The District Management Group is one of those companies. The president is Nathan Levenson, a graduate of the Broad Foundation Urban Superintendents Academy.
Here is what they say about special education:
We help districts raise achievement for struggling students, with and without IEPs and expand services despite tight resources.
8. Special education doesn’t work.
The best way to destroy special education is through poor test results. We don’t trust high-stakes tests for students in general. Why would we trust them for students with disabilities?
Children are different. Few of us excel at everything. Schools should look for the positive attributes all students bring to school and quit relying on test results as proof of failure.
Whatever academic weaknesses show up should be addressed with programs known to work and teachers who are well-prepared.
Students need a continuum of services at every level of their development in their schools. We will always need that.
It’s important at this time in history, not to destroy the progress we have made in serving students with disabilities.
When reformers say they must cut costs in special education, they are telling us they don’t want to pay for students with disabilities. They don’t see it as a priority. They want to put the money into charters and vouchers where a profit can be made.
Students with disabilities of any kind and those who are also gifted and talented, and twice exceptional students, deserve the kind of funding that will help them succeed in a free public school and later in life.
If we lose IDEA, students will have no protection, and we will be one step closer to the end of public education.