17 Jun Special-Ed Advocates Fear Children Will Suffer in Budget Crisis (IL)June 17, 2010
By: Lisa BlackSource: The Chicago Tribune
Special-education advocates fear that as the state’s budget crisis filters into classrooms, more school di stricts will skimp on services to children with disabilities — or take money from regular education programs to pay for them.
While critics complain that two suburban school districts are contracting with a lower-cost private school, Ombudsman Plus, for some of their most fragile students, they describe it as a sign of the economic times.
Under federal law regarding children with special needs, school districts "have a legal obligation to try to maintain services at a certain level. Otherwise they can be sued," said Rodney Estvan, education policy analyst for Access Living of Chicago.
He fears that districts will start to cut programs affecting all children, such as music or arts, pitting parents against each other. Meanwhile, school districts are borrowing money while waiting for the legislature to approve a state budget and pay its backlog of bills, he said.
Others worry that more students with special needs will be placed in regular education classrooms without proper support.
On Monday, state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch issued a memo that allows school districts to request a waiver to a law requiring that at least 70 percent of students in a regular education classroom not have special needs.
"It would only be granted with great thought and consideration," said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
Still, advocates fear regular education teachers without experience or credentials for working with disabled students could become responsible for them, said Bev Johns, chairwoman of the Illinois Special Education Coalition.
"That is a major conc ern, particularly when you look at Chicago, which is making the class sizes bigger," Johns said.
She also has heard complaints that school districts are refusing or delaying evaluations of children who may be eligible for special-education services.
"They are not evaluating because they don’t want to pay for services," Johns said.