What Is ‘School Choice’ for Special-Needs Students?

All parents want the best possible educations for their children.  “School choice” has been embraced by our country as a way to improve educational outcomes.  Parents can now consider:  What schools are available? What will be taught?  Who pays for it?

These questions are daunting enough for the parents of a “normal” kid.  But not all kids are “normal.”

Some are blind or deaf.  Some have learning disabilities, mild or severe.  Some are autistic.  Some have psychiatric disorders.  Some struggle to just stay alive.  If you think a parent’s challenge to get the best education for a “normal” kid is tough, just imagine getting a good education for a special-needs student.

With a special-needs student, the same questions apply.  What schools are available?  What will be taught?  Who will pay for it?  But because special-needs students make up such a small proportion of the population, results may vary.

Let’s not dance around the main issue:  educating special-needs kids is expensive.  School districts who are accustomed to paying $12,000 per student/year tend to freak out when faced with a $70,000 bill for an itinerant special ed teacher who serves only one student.  Plus these students might affect the school’s standardized testing performance.

It raises the age-old question:  Should special-needs students be mainstreamed in public schools with their “normal” peers, or should they be sent to schools with specialized programs and teachers who are better equipped to handle them and their disabilities?

In 1974 Congress passed the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees children with disabilities a public education appropriate to their needs, at no cost to their families, with these provisions:

  • Children with disabilities must be educated with students who do not have disabilities and should attend the school that is closest to home.
  • Children with disabilities must be provided with support services that assist them in benefiting educationally from their instructional program.
  • An assessment must be completed to determine the child’s needs. This may be done only with the parent’s informed written consent.

Parents of special-needs students will pretty much unanimously attest that getting educational services at any acceptable level involves a tremendous battle – my wife and I raised a totally blind son through public schools and can offer personal testimony.  “School Choices” can seem binary to special-needs families.  Will my kid get a real education, or not?  And where:  local public schools, or special school?

Most states still operate resident deaf / blind schools.  And all public school districts are required to provide special-education services.  Now that most states offer public school choices – traditional schools, charter schools, alternative schools, innovation schools, trade- or discipline-specific schools – the situation is all the more confusing for special-needs families.

An often-heard concern about privately-operated charter and innovation schools is that they will not accept or provide appropriate services for special-needs students, despite federal requirements.  The jury is out, but early studies suggest that parents of special-needs students usually choose traditional public schools over charter schools for their students.

The new alternative school models usually run on lighter budgets, and are sometimes rigidly driven by profit.  Will this relegate special-needs students to the traditional public schools, limiting their access to other schools of choice?  On a recent visit to Denver for the Franklin Center’s #AmplifyChoice conference, I was pleased to see that one of the major independent school networks has schools that specialize in services for students with certain disabilities.

Most likely the key element to the successful education of special-needs students will not change in the new “school choice” environment.  Parents who aggressively advocate for their kids will receive good services, and those who don’t, won’t.  Let’s hope that states and districts keep the interests of their special-needs students at heart as school choices evolve.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideWhen some loud braggart tries to put me down,
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
“Now what’s the matter buddy
Ain’t you heard of my school?
It’s number one in the state!”

Be True To Your School – the Beach Boys

 

 

Shutdown!

shutdownRepublican congressional leaders, and many of their sheepish members, are all puckered up over ShutDown.

“ShutDown?  ShutDown!  Oh, no, that would be too risky.  Remember when we got blamed for shutting down the government?  Whenever there is a shutdown, we ALWAYS get the blame!”

So the Republican leadership strong-armed their members into passing the CRomnibus (Continuing Resolution / Omnibus) spending bill, giving Obama and Reid everything they wanted in the way of flatulent government spending all the way to September of 2015, the end of the fiscal year.  Never mind that the Republicans won big in the November elections and now hold majorities in both houses.  Now they can take it easy in DC until next football season, when the Redskins will no longer have RG3 to kick around.

“We just couldn’t take the risk,” they said.  Somebody might think we Republicans are MEANIES if we don’t commit to spend another $1.1 TRILLION for such critical programs as a new National Women’s Museum, continuing the corporate crony Import/Export Bank, and other little items like ObamaCare and benefits for illegal immigrants.

John Hayward, in Human Events, succinctly pointed out the lunacy of it all, saying:

There was no reason to give the defeated Democrats anything except a stop-gap bill to fund the government through January, at which point the incoming Republican majorities should have exercised control over everything. If the Democrats don’t like that deal, let them shut down the government in a fit of pique, and tell voters how the party they just threw out of power should be allowed to control their lives for an extra year. Not only would that be smart politics – giving the Republicans more fiscal leverage to stand up for America against Obama’s amnesty, instead of just funding for the Department of Homeland Security – but it would represent more sensible and responsible government. All of this multi-trillion-dollar monstrosity is linked together; all of it should be on the table; the flab should be liposuctioned out of every agency at once in a comprehensive plan for fiscal sanity and increased American liberty.

Why did the Republican leadership do it?  Why did they fritter away a golden opportunity to actually shrink government, as the entire GOP promised in their campaign speeches?  And, simultaneously, giving support to the knuckle-head programs they were elected to stop?

“Shutdown!  OMG, we’ll be accused of SHUUUUUT-DOOOOOOOWN!”

According to Ron Paul, “Most House and Senate members are so terrified of another government shutdown that they would rather vote for a 1,774-page bill they have not read than risk even a one or two-day government shutdown.”  Paul says instead of briefly shutting down 20% of the government offices, better we should permanently close major parts of the federal government – starting with the Federal Reserve, and followed closely by the Internal Revenue Service.

The Democrats aren’t afraid of shutting down the government as a tactic.  Rush Limbaugh pointed out that they voted to do just that when all 212 Democrat representatives in the House voted against the rule that set the stage for passage of the CRomnibus spending bill.  “In other words, 212 Democrats voted against the rule, voted against bringing up the final vote on the omnibus bill. Now, you could say, as I just did, that the Democrats essentially voted to shut down the government, but nowhere would this ever be portrayed as what actually happened,” Rush reported.  They weren’t the least bit worried about being blamed for the big SD.

But Boehner and friends shrink in terror at the very thought.

Frankly, I don’t get it.  I have lived through a number of government shutdowns, without any negative lingering effects.  I know, last time the big SD happened we paid some people double-time-and-a-half to put roadblocks on the highway so tourists could not see Mount Rushmore as they drove through the Black Hills.  And we spent extra money on barriers to keep World War II vets from seeing their monument.  But everybody got their government checks on time, soldiers and sailors still reported for duty, and as far as I know even the government employees who didn’t go to work got full back pay (bonus!) as soon as the SHUTDOWN crisis was over.

Not all Republicans are weak-kneed milktoasts.  67 GOP congressmen, including my rep Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), voted against the CRomnibus.  More Democrats voted against it than for it, but for different reasons.  Sadly, the majority of Republican members acquiesced to their leadership.  You can see how your congressman voted on this and other key issues at the Heritage Action Scorecard.

Personally, I am all for government shut down.  If that’s what it takes to get the budget under control, I say shut ‘er down.  And while we are at it, let’s take a good hard look at replacing the Republican leadership.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Shut it off, shut it off
Buddy, now I shut you down!

Shut Down – the Beach Boys

 

A repeat, but worth repeating . . .

Surviving the Shut Down

Shut DownWe are in the seventh day of the federal government “Shut Down”.  By now, according to the dire predictions of the Democrats on Capitol Hill and the elite media, we should all be dead.

Actually, things don’t seem so bad.  If there are hardships, they appear to be rare and minimal.

Our federal employees are enjoying their paid vacations.  As I predicted, Congress voted unanimously to provide back pay for all 800,000 furloughed federal workers.  It isn’t enough that they earn double what private-sector employees do for comparable work, or that their benefit packages are far more generous than ours.  Now they are on extended paid leave, with no end in sight.  Children used to dream of being princes and princesses.  Now they aspire to be Assistant to the Undersecretary of Diversity for the Department of Sustainable Green Diaper Recycling.  Have a Corona for me, guys, and don’t forget the sunscreen.

Disappointed that Americans are not feeling enough pain, the Obama administration has worked diligently to manufacture some in the most unexpected places:

Each of these shameless, finger-in-the-eye provocations has been turned back by public outrage, but our shameless imperial leaders offer no apologies.  Many more insulting shutdowns are being revealed by the hour.  When the government spends tax money to shut down services or facilities that did not cost anything to keep open in the first place, their motivation is obvious.  This is nothing more than arrogant, childish bullying, and flat-out disrespect for the citizens.

Obama/Reid defenders claim these spiteful political actions are self-defense against the growing opposition to their train-wreck ObamaCare program.  We Americans are more than justified taking whatever action is necessary to stop this monstrosity – my health insurance premiums have increased by more than double (please check yours).  And we know damn well that a government who can’t even make a website work in three years is not capable of managing the complexities of our entire health care system.

Please, Congress stand your ground.  Our children will pay the price if we allow this insanity to continue.  If our government can no longer operate within a budget and a constitution, if it has nothing but contempt for the very citizens it pretends to serve, if it refuses to reverse its tragic mistakes and prevent more in the future, then now is the time.  Shut her down!  Somehow, I think we will survive.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Shut it off, shut it off,
Buddy, gonna shut you down!

Shut Down – the Beach Boys