By Amanda Litvinov
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During another tense appearance before the Senate earlier this month, Betsy DeVos made this statement about the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal: “This budget does in fact anticipate fully funding IDEA.”
The Trump-DeVos budget cuts $113 million from the funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) received in 2017.
But the idea of cutting critical federal support for states to serve special needs students is not popular with everyone on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, Congress introduced the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act, which over the next decade would increase the federal contribution to IDEA from roughly 15 percent to 40 percent of the costs associated with educating special needs students.
The 40 percent threshold is important, because that’s the level that Congress committed to when the federal special education law was enacted in 1975. Congress has never funded IDEA at even 20 percent.
The additional cut in the Trump-DeVos budget lowers IDEA funding to pre-2001 levels.
“For far too long, Congress has not adequately funded special education,” said Martha Patterson, a special education teacher at Fairview Middle School in Silverdale, Washington.
“In my 30-plus years as an educator, 20 of them as a special ed teacher, I have seen students put in classes far too large for their needs,” Patterson said.
This year she had 18 students in her math remediation class, which she says should ideally be six or seven students, tops. In another district where Patterson taught reading, she had up to 20 students in one group, despite the fact that the curriculum specifically said the ideal group should not exceed six.
She finds it terribly disheartening that IDEA funding has languished, and that the Trump administration would essentially roll it back another 16 years.
All told, the Trump administration has proposed a 13.5 percent cut to the Department of Education to pay for its private school voucher program, which could be harmful to special education students in another way.
Families who accept private school vouchers might unknowingly sacrifice the federal protections their children have under IDEA. That’s essentially what happens under the voucher schemes in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, as the New York Times reported in April.
For many educators and parents, this is just one of the many reasons why public dollars should not be shifted out of the public school framework to private schools that are not accountable to taxpayers.
Patterson says educators simply need more support in the form of paraeducators and specialized instructional support personnel who can help meet the wide range of needs her students have.
She has found herself without the right equipment to support medically fragile students, some who require feeding tubes and diapering. She’s run the halls many times after students who act out in frustration because they don’t have enough one-on-one support to deal with the learning challenges that stand in their way.
Educators like Patterson have always been there to do whatever they can, filling many roles and working overtime—so why can’t lawmakers do more to support them?
“These students have incredible brains, incredible minds,” said Patterson, who believes that with the proper supports any of them can go on to do great things. “But when you shortchange education funding to special ed students, you are shortchanging our future.”
Urge your Representatives to support the IDEA Full Funding Act.