Students with disabilities suffer the most from K-12 funding cuts
Monday, April 30, 2018
Recent years have been tumultuous for K-12 schools as proposed federal budget cuts targeted Education Department funding to the tune of $9.2 billion in fiscal 2018 and $3.6 billion in fiscal 2019. As a result, teachers, administrators, districts, and parents are not only fighting possible cuts but pushing for increased public money.
Additionally, significant cuts to Medicaid not only affect public schools and poorer students, but special-needs students as well. Budget cuts could take away about $4 billion in Medicaid reimbursements per year for those with special needs.
Per the advocacy group AASA, The School Superintendents Association, Medicaid reimbursements cover special equipment, health screenings for low-income students. It also includes the salaries of staff who serve these students.
Funding for schools that comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is already low at $13 billion. The $4 billion in Medicaid reimbursements is all the extra help they could get. Now even that seems tough.
Along with the school districts, lawmakers in many states are bracing for potential deadlock over school spending.
Legislators in Vermont are working on two school bills to overhaul state payment for general and special education. However, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott wants to keep his promise of not raising taxes. With little federal funding in sight, all they can do is artificially lower property taxes as they did before. But that is a short-term plan and will do nothing to stabilize the system.
It will not improve the staff-to-student ratio nor provide teacher health care benefits. If things go on as they are, another $4.5 million will be taken from schools this year after $8.5 million was taken away last year.
Cutting into the already slim school budgets could force schools to cut core staff and courses. It may take the resources away from the most vulnerable, students with special needs.
But not all districts are waiting out the funding storm. The Willingboro, Vermont, school district is not waiting for improved state and federal legislation.
It proposes to tackle a $5.74 million budget shortfall through new measures. The plan includes privatizing paraprofessionals, among others.
While there are even fewer resources left for special needs kids, parents are concerned about how privatized paraprofessionals would impact the school’s special education population. They would prefer that existing paraprofessionals continue working with the children they know. Privatization may help the district’s bottom line, but the disruption may negatively impact the children with learning disabilities.
It is not only the budget cuts for special education that affect our most vulnerable students. As more teachers plan to walk out across the country, parents of special needs children are especially worried.
Most recently, Arizona teachers and educational staff on strike to protest cuts in K-12 funding. Children with disabilities need trained personnel to take care of them. But the para-educators are facing the biggest risks with the funding cuts and most are joining in the walkouts as well.
Parents of children with disabilities are struggling to find appropriate childcare. They are more affected by strikes than others.
A typical middle or high schooler may be able to stay home without supervision for a few days, but not so a teen with disabilities. They are dependent on their educators and caretakers who are trained to look after with them.
Then, there is the matter of disrupting their routine, something that offers them stability and peace of mind. With more funding cuts and walkouts, kids with disabilities stand to lose most. They will forget their skills and take a longer time to relearn those skills, setting their development back.
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