From Education Votes
By Amanda Litvinov
May 26, 2015
Forty years ago, federal lawmakers transformed how we educate our special needs students with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). They also committed to pay 40 percent of the per pupil cost of educating students with special needs.
But the federal government has never met even half of that obligation to the states and the students and families who rely on the critical services and programs that public schools provide. The chronic underfunding of IDEA has forced states and districts to cut elsewhere to fulfill the law’s mandates.
The federal government’s unfulfilled promise cost the states a collective $17 billion for the current school year.
Educators see the effects of the chronic underfunding of special education in their classrooms every day.
Here are a handful of educator and parent perspectives shared with EducationVotes:
“I work mainly with students with autism. Improper funding typically means less paraeducator support. That can leave special needs kids alone in a class of 30 students. It can mean students with challenging behaviors in a small group with no additional help. It can mean students who are affected by the noise and chaos of the lunchroom enduring those challenges alone. It also may mean no more trainings or workshops for teachers. These are just a few of the reasons proper funding matters!”
MIDDLE SCHOOL SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER, EDEN PRAIRIE, MINN.
“Federal dollars help keep special education classes smaller, so teachers can give each student more individualized attention. We already have too many students on our caseload to do our very best work, and if we continue to take on more students with no new staff, the quality of our services will further deteriorate.”
HIGH SCHOOL SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER, GIBSONVILLE, N.C.
“My son has debilitating learning disabilities. If he does not receive appropriate instruction from special education teachers he will not be able to become a productive citizen. Please, lawmakers, provide funding that keeps classes smaller so that those with learning difficulties can be successful.”
PARENT AND COLLEGE INSTRUCTOR, WORCESTER, MASS.
“Many of my students start school with extremely limited self-help and social skills. Teaching them to communicate, to play, and to take care of themselves requires intensive individual instruction. But the rewards are enormous! When you see those students a few years later learning to read, write, count, and do math problems—when they can communicate their needs, when they have friends in their general education classrooms who seek them out on the playground—you know that all that intensive work has been worth every minute and every cent. I wish everyone in Washington could see what I see.”
ELEMENTARY SPECIAL/DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION TEACHER, WOODLAND, CALIF.
“I have students who are at a huge disadvantage because of the poverty they were born into. Too many have parents who are in prison or dead, poor diets and spotty after-school care, and a government that appears to care less and less. Lawmakers, come to my classroom, look those children in the eyes, and see if you still can sleep at night knowing that critical federal programs like IDEA are nowhere near fully funded. Our society will be judged by how we help those who need us most.”
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER, SALEM, ILL.
“I am saddened nearly every day when I see how much more we ought to be doing in special education and sickened when I meet adult students with disabilities whose outcomes would have turned out better if they had had better services. We can do better than this. Where is our national pride when it comes to educational services for students with disabilities?”
TEACHER, KIRKLAND, WASH.
“I have taught preschool/Head Start since 2004. The amount of special needs among our kids continues to rise at an alarming rate. I will never understand why important federal programs for low-income families and kids with special needs continue to be cut or chronically underfunded. Those who hold the purse strings should come visit our preschool/Head Start classrooms.”
EARLY EDUCATION TEACHER, PADUCAH, KY.
“Children are coming to school with reduced language abilities and teachers are struggling to educate children delayed abilities to attend, problem solve, follow directions, and understand basic concepts. Class sizes are growing, adding to these concerns. If our legislators truly want to see American children educated, they have got to visit classrooms, talk with teachers and paraprofessionals, and understand the needs we manage daily.”
ELEMENTARY SPEECH/LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST, SHADE, OHIO