Friday, September 19, 2008

Economic Crisis and IDEA Mandates: Where Are We Headed?

The recent federal money bail outs of financial institutions and the subsequent stock market slide, deemed an "Economic 9/11", has me asking some serious questions about where our funding sources for schools and special education are headed. As I drove to work, Public Radio had a piece on the Secure Rural Schools program and efforts to get it re-authorized.
In the past, rural schools in Oregon and Washington State have been able to qualify for supplemental federal support through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act passed in 2000. The financial support amounted to over 200 million dollars to Oregon rural schools where there were a lack of other economic factors to offset costs, i.e. closed lumber mills, federal lands without industry surrounding a community. It also provided support to many other rural programs in the states that qualified.
Congresss did not feel the Act should be permanent and final legislation closed/terminated the program in 2006. Blue Oregon posted a guest column by Congressman Peter DeFazio, (D- Eugene, Oregon) about the battle to re-authorize the Act. The challenge has been coming up with the resource avenue that will fund the program. As the program has been tried to be re-authorized through write-ins on energy bills, evidently big oil and energy has resisted and lobbied against inclusion. The column by DeFazio takes us through the maze of attempt after attempt to get this funding resource back into the hands of our rural schools.

What does this have to do with assistive technology?
While polticians play their games and work for or against re-authorization, school programs falter. Through IDEA 2004, we have a mandate to provide assistive technology to students. Some of the districts in my region do not pay into a pot for AT services because they don't have a budget to pay for it. They bring me in on a case by case basis - which doesn't happen very often. I have had visits with district SLP's that will "wish" I could help and I can't. I can refer them to OTAP (Oregon Technology Access Program) for an AAC device, but I can't loan equipment from my center or do evaluations, etc.
As our economic situation worsens nation-wide, I ask myself, "Where are our funding priorities going to fall as budgets tighten? What ramifications will this have on special education and the staff number, assistive technology support etc.?" Just because the feds mandate something, doesn't mean it will get funded. Our schools are burdened with all kinds of mandates when there is no money to support them. My job security is not determined by the fact that what I do is federally mandated somewhere. The dire needs of individuals with disabilities will not necessarily be met because of mandates either - when push comes to shove. This makes our advocacy efforts more important than ever.
My only answer right now is to stay involved. We need every federal and state program we can get to support schools right now. We also need administrators in school districts that will allocate dollars to keep our special education and support services running. Let's work together to continue to push and be vocal for our students with disabilities.

All the best to you as we "hang in there!"



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