California's public education system is dysfunctional and it is the children and the future generation that have paid the costs. In addressing both the short term issues and the long term, true solutions need to be found. It is not a solution that is found in demonstrations. Teachers' unions have been unable to demonstrate a significant role in addressing the real needs of teachers. The result has been high teacher turnover, a decrease in the number of new teachers and high student drop-out rates.
Alternatives, whether vouchers or charter schools are patch work remedies that have no significant impact on the vast majority of students in the public school system. Increasingly, public school systems are contracting out to private education contractors. In the interest of full-disclosure, it should be said that I periodically work for such a company. It is worthwhile to mention that the stimulus proposal includes increasing funding to Special Education. This is worth supporting.
At issue in California are the glaring inadequacies of state funding to education. (see the article ) The existing state funding has frozen in place a system that cannot address the needs of limited English language students, special education and districts with low tax bases. It has replaced school buildings with mobile homes. It has replaced textbooks with Xerox copies. It has undermined student focus on learning and increasingly undermined the ability of teachers to focus on teaching.
This presents the budget issue and the inability to raise taxes on the front burner in the state of California. It presents Prop 13 as the first hurdle to be leaped in addressing the stalemate that is dragging the state down. It presents changing the vote required for the budget to be passed. There are no solutions for the "corporations" to pay or no way around the recognition that in difficult times we all pay the costs for our failures to invest in education during good times.
Greens running in local elections and for school boards need to be up front on these issues and begin to form a new consensus that sees the priority in investing in our children's future. Greens working within teachers' unions need to build a caucus that can increase the visibility of the teacher in the funding process.
If I might be so bold, I would challenge the writer of the article from an educational perspective. The writer declares: "If more teachers are trained and more inclusion of these children occurs, then it would be easier to get the funding for special needs because the children would already be included into a regular classroom setting." One thing the writer omits in regards to IDEA is that is was established for the purpose of providing Free, Appropriate Public Education to students with special needs.
This is not an issue of labeling students disproportionately based on ethnicity but of failing to provide the services needed to students with demonstrated difficulties. Public sentiment has evolved in regards to addressing the education of special needs student, but the solution is not be found in models of inclusion that have not demonstrated any real success and have exacerbated the efforts of general education teachers.
In 1992, I wrote a research paper on Special Education funding that predicted the demise of Special Education services that is reflected in the California public schools. I pointed to the scrapping of the ESEA and the dismantlement of public day schools for severe and profoundly impaired children and youth. I pointed to the funding formulas changed at the state level in Pennsylvania and the impact that even the Public School Board Association predicted the impact would be. I sent the paper to Senator Harris Wofford and he sent it to the Secretary of Education for Pennsylvania.
Supporters of the Regular Education initiative such as William Bennett, Margaret Wang and Madeleine Will (George's wife) are no longer in the spotlight, but today deconstructionists have replaced these personalities with their own agenda that has promoted the perspective that inclusion of special needs student is a "civil rights" issue. In point of fact, inclusion has failed to provide an equal education. This is an article in itself and I apologize for digressing but feel it is important for Greens in education to begin to raise the realities that students, parents, administrators and school boards alike can see.
SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION AND FUNDING FOR IT:
The special education system in the United States is one of the most heavily-regulated and under-funded of all federal education mandates (click here According to National Association of State Boards of Education when IDEA was created in 1975, the legislation included the goal that 40 percent of the extra costs of the inclusion of special needs children into regular classrooms would be covered by the federal Government, but according to the 2002 budget the government has only provided 18% of the extra costs for special education and it has been up to the states and local governments to foot the rest of the bill (click here There is not nearly enough funding for these children who need it the most. In order to have good teachers who care about their students, there needs to be more funding put into special needs education. Not enough teachers today are being trained in special needs education. If more teachers are trained and more inclusion of these children occurs, then it would be easier to get the funding for special needs because the children would already be included into a regular classroom setting.
Other states and school districts seem to agree with this discrepancy in cost due to the federal government's forgetfulness to pay 22% more than they currently are, some of these states are taking action against the government, but still some are not doing their part to ensure children with special needs receive the funding they need to continue their education in the proper way. Wisconsin law, for example, mandates that the state reimburse local school districts for 63% of the cost to educate children in special education, but the state has not met this commitment for nearly a decade, and special education costs have increased at a rate of 6.3% (http://www.weac.org/Capitol/1998-99/april99/eengp.htm). It is in the state law to help these children and to fund their special education needs. Wisconsin as a state is not doing to their part to ensure success for all students.
The federal government is obviously not willing to help these children either, and if every state followed in Wisconsin's footsteps, there might not well be a special education program in any classroom across the United States. Proper funding is a large part of what can make or break special education. Proper funding can provide great care and teachers to these kids, and if that funding continues to not be sufficient, it can hurt these children in the long run.
According to the Governor's Budget on Special Education funding in California in 2003-2004, it proposes that the total expenses would increase approximately $215 million dollars up to a total of $4.4 billion in 2005-2006, also under this proposal the General Fund support for special education would increase 4.9% (click here ). Also under this proposal the General Fund support for special education would increase 4.9% This proposal sounds promising, and that is exactly what the governors of these states want you to think. Proposals from the governor always sound wonderful, and seem like they are going to work for everybody, and everyone will be happy with the results. If you take it at face value, all it is just a proposal, it's not a promise, just a guideline. Unfortunately, California along with many other states are not even close to this guideline. According to an article on Special Education News in California, the state of California and the California Schools Boards Association which represented nearly 1000 county education agencies and school districts, reached a final agreement to reimburse school districts for $520 million they have spent over the last 20 years to educate students with special needs, funds which were largely paid out of pocket, click here
What does this say about the state of funding for special needs students in our classrooms? California and Wisconsin are both holding back funds to help these children, and more needs to be done to put pressure on these states to produce this money and give more to education. Children are the future of this country, special needs or not, everyone can have a chance to reach success if they are just given the chance to do so. Even though the schools were reimbursed for their funds spent out of pocket, the settlement figure is only slightly more than half the $1.1 billion dollars the CSBA originally claimed the schools were owed (click here These states are getting off easy, more needs to be done to ensure each special needs child has a chance for a proper education, no matter what school district or state they are in.
One of the few states to take action against the lack of proper funding for special education was Michigan. In Durant v. State Board of Education, 244 taxpayers representing 225 school districts sued the State for allegedly underfunding special education programs and services by hundreds of thousands of dollars (www.lawyersweekly.com) These are just three states where major problems in special education funding have occurred. All three of these states (California, Michigan and Wisconsin) have been cheated by the State system for funds that are dearly needed for the proper education of special education children. What needs to be done to ensure that the withholding of funds for special education doesn't continue for more children throughout the United States? The federal government needs to step in and take charge of where this money is going. They need to enforce these laws throughout the entire country and make sure every state is doing what needs to be done so that children everywhere, disability or not, can have a positive, effective school experience.