Even At Christmas, the NCGA Uses School Children as Political Pawns – SB 469’s Modification of the Disabilities Grant

Our public schools should be able to go out of their way to accommodate children with disabilities. Whether that means more resources, more teacher assistants, more trained personnel, or more professional development, then that should be invested in.

Actually, it’s the law. It’s called IDEA: the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. It stipulates that students with a disability (ies) are provided with a free quality public education that is tailored to each student’s needs.

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If you recall, it was almost two years ago that Betsy DeVos began her confirmation hearings that resulted in the only time a cabinet member had to be confirmed by a tie-breaking vote.

In that series of interrogations, DeVos, who had no experience in public schools, showed that she had absolutely no “idea” of the scope and stipulations of the Individuals With Disabilities Education ACT. What she had experience with were vouchers, privately-run charter schools, and other privatization reforms.

When you are a parent of a child with “disabilities,” the absolute mass of cryptic information, the onslaught of responsibility, and the time and energy needed just to find the resources available to help with your child can be more than consuming.

And you are not given extra time in the day to study all of the laws like IDEA that were created to help your child. In fact, you are trying to use what limited means you might only have to get the medical attention and therapies needed just for basic tasks.

In this past few years, states are starting to advance reforms such as Educational Savings Accounts and Disabilities Grants to “help” families with students that have disabilities. In most cases, these involve some sort of voucher that can be used to send these students to private schools instead of educating them in public schools.

North Carolina uses both the ESA’s and Disabilities Grants. Both lack transparency. And in many cases students and their families end up waiving their rights as expressed in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to take “advantage” of the voucher.

Kris Nordstrom wrote an excellent piece for NC Policy Watch which outlined the trappings of SB 469, a “Technical Corrections Bill” that bundled a legislation that would have positively affected students in Wayne County who are about to taken over by the Innovation School District with other legislation that further exacerbates NC’s privatization efforts of public school.

SB 469, inaccurately titled as a “Technical Corrections” bill, creates several substantive changes to the state’s education policies. Notably, the bill would grease the rails for school segregation by making it easier for wealthy suburban communities to create “municipal charter schools” that would exacerbate gross inequities within North Carolina’s school system. Additionally, the bill would needlessly funnel $8,000 a year to certain families of private school students. Both are moves in the wrong direction.

The last sentence in the previous paragraph refers to a new loophole in the state’s Disabilities Grants.

Nordstrom continues to explain this use of vouchers :

The move is clearly an attempt to prop up demand for the unpopular voucher program. In FY 17-18, the program was over-funded by $1.1 million. The state appropriated $9.6 million for the program, but just $8.5 million was distributed. Despite the lack of demand, lawmakers boosted funding by over $3 million in the 2018 budget. Instead of subsidizing private programs that might be harmful to students, these funds could be used to boost support for students with disabilities in our under-funded public school system.

He also references an article in the New York Times by Dana Goldstein from 2017 in that part: “Special Ed School Vouchers May Come With Hidden Costs.” It should be read by anyone who has a child with special needs or any family member or advocate.

It begins with these words:

For many parents with disabled children in public school systems, the lure of the private school voucher is strong.

Vouchers for special needs students have been endorsed by the Trump administration, and they are often heavily promoted by state education departments and by private schools, which rely on them for tuition dollars. So for families that feel as if they are sinking amid academic struggles and behavioral meltdowns, they may seem like a life raft. And often they are.

But there’s a catch. By accepting the vouchers, families may be unknowingly giving up their rights to the very help they were hoping to gain. The government is still footing the bill, but when students use vouchers to get into private school, they lose most of the protections of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

So, how transparent is that program here in North Carolina? Not very.

The ESA program is not transparent. The Opportunity Grants Program is not transparent. The Disabilities Grants are not transparent.

What SB 469 is allowing is just not frightening. It’s malicious and uses tax payer money to help students go to private schools to possibly bypass the responsibilities of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

As the parent of a child who has special needs it is astounding to realize how much my wife and I did not know about the laws surrounding education. About IEP’s. About our rights.

And I am a veteran public school educator and my wife is an editor / researcher by trade. We have health insurance. We are plugged into some support networks. We have been able to get some help outside of the school setting.

Imagine those families with students who have disabilities who are not as fortunate. We do live in a state where over %20 of our public school students live at or blow the poverty line.

What NC’s lawmakers should do is go out of their way to empower public schools to extend every possible effort and resource to accommodate students with special needs. They should invest the money that is being wasted in voucher programs back into the public schools to allow for more services and individualized attention to be given to students.

Actually, it’s the law.

And if there are students whose needs cannot be met in a public school setting because of the severity of the situation, then allow for a TRANSPARENT PROGRAM to help get those students the resources needed.