My special education son has to see his speech therapist in the public school he attends in his classroom w/ the other kids interfering with nothing but two bookshelves and a line of chairs separating him and the therapist from the intruding little kids. Why? Because there is no other place in the entire school for the sessions to occur.
My son is part of a study conducted by the NIH and they say he needs the special education class 5 days a week. Guess what. The school district can only afford to run the program on 3-day and 2-day day schedules.
When I read the entire 2015 report on school expenditures I noted that the the costs to transport charter school kids are so expensive compared to transporting public school kids that they lack economies of scale (p.73), contributing to Delaware having the 4th highest transportation costs in the nation for our public schools.
I couldn't help but think that my kid is doing without the facilities he needs and the frequency of special education he needs just so people like you and Al Mascitti can promote a school system that breaks up teachers unions. That's your interest and damn the children who might suffer as a consequence--children like my kid.
There are many things that Dana and I will never agree on, but public education--especially the education owed by our country to young American citizens with special needs and/or profound handicaps--is an area in which I believe he and I can march shoulder to shoulder.
In 1995 I was just finishing up a three-year stint as co-chair of Delaware's Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks Commission. We were about to unveil the new standards (anyone remember New Directions? or as I prefer, Nude Erections?), and I had been asked to sit down one evening with a group representing special education parents. They were concerned that the move toward standards-based, assessment-driven instruction was going to leave their children behind. I assured them (because this is what I was told by the Delaware education bureaucracy at the time) that the needs of their children would always be considered.
They were particularly anxious about testing. Would their children be tested on grade level or at their functional level? Again I told them (as I had been assured) that their children would continue to be assessed at the functional level required by the IEPs (Individual Educational Plans).
Over the next four years, the Department of Public Instruction (now DOE) made a liar out of me on all counts.
I had occasion to remember that night when my wife and I adopted a special needs daughter out of state custody. Because, for the first few years, she was technically in our house as a foster child, she had an educational surrogate. Educational surrogates are appointed for children who don't have parents to advocate for them; by and large it is an excellent program.
In our case it was a disaster. My wife and I both have extensive postgraduate training and professional work histories with adolescent learning difficulties. Our surrogate was a well-intentioned but barely literate person who thought our daughter should be institutionalized for the rest of her life, could not learn beyond perhaps employment in a sheltered workshop, and was being victimized by the two of us insisting that she would graduate from high school, would attend college, and would become a productive citizen who didn't have to exist on society's charity.
During the years our daughter spent in the Delaware school system we have experienced the best and worst of teachers, facilities, administrators, programs, testing, and the whole nine yards. We paid thousands of dollars out of pocket for special tutoring that the State refused to certify her for. We experienced program managers explaining what our daughter needed, and how much less the school was going to be able to provide.
At every step of the way our educational surrogate attempted to overrule our decisions, to keep our daughter warehoused in a non-graduation program, out of the mainstream.
We knew we could sue, at least after the adoption became finalized, but we're frankly not the litigious types.
We cried, we raged, we fought, and we got our daughter an education that was sometimes in spite of the public schools instead of due to them.
If you have not been there, you have no idea what's contained in those few paragraphs Dana wrote at the top of this post.
You have no idea of the little triumphs, the constant heartbreaks, the outright prejudice that is ironically better than the complete apathy of often disinterested functionaries.
You have no idea what it feels like to be able to research and discover what your child needs, only to discover that the cost is astronomically beyond your means, and the system is NOT going to provide it for you, no matter what the law says.
Your child could thrive, his or her condition doesn't have to be a permanent bar from self-sufficiency or at least a personally fulfilling life--and other than the other parents in the same boat or a few dedicated, overworked teachers and therapists, you discover that....
Nobody really gives a shit about your child.
I have no problem with school choice, and as a concept I don't have a problem with charters (although, as I've gone on record here before, I think both Dave Burris and Myopia 2015 are seriously over the edge with them), but I have a severe problem with people who piously intone about the best and the brightest being cheated in our system, and who begrudge every nickel and dime being allocated to American citizens with special needs that sometimes don't show on the surface, or which manifest in less than socially pleasing fashion.
That tends to make me--even as a Libertarian--far less sympathetic towards advocates of pulling additional resources out of the regular public schools for gifted or talented children in charter schools.
[A note for truth in advertising: I've also got twins who are gifted and talented, and they sit right in the regular schools. They each read at least five grades about their current grade level, and would excel in any classroom you placed them in. They have been raised to be independent learners who know they need to keep pace if they want to go to the college of their choice. So please don't tell me I have this position just because I have a daughter with special needs. You can find the full spectrum in my house.]
Frankly, the state bureaucracy would just as soon children like Dana's didn't exist, and it is all too happy to put the screws to the districts to cover the cost of their education.
In one below-the-canal school district about 15 years ago there was a profoundly deaf child whose parents insisted (as was their right under least restrictive environment rules that he be mainstreamed into the classroom and provided a full-time aide at district expense. That's what the law said he was entitled to. The district, hurting for money as districts always are, attempted to skirt the law, got sued, lost, and essentially had to have a referendum to pay for the cost of a full-time aide for one child for the next eleven years.
There are also school districts in this state that go out of their way to avoid classifying students as special education so that they don't become obligated to provide certain expensive services.
What can we do about this? Lots.
At the smaller, individual end of the spectrum, volunteering in the schools makes a huge difference. You know, if there was one parent volunteer in the classroom every day that Dana's son had speech therapy, I'll bet you there would be far fewer interruptions and distractions. A bandaid? You bet.
More substantively we could employ a threshold test that beyond a certain point made the state and not the district responsible for covering the cost of adaptive education. There's a lot more room to cut fat at the Townsend Building than there is in most school districts, and the combined fiscal responsibility for special needs education would make the bureaucrats there a lot more zealous about pursuing additional grant funds to pay for it all.
I say as I have said before: I am a great believer in personal responsibility. But young Americans with special educational needs do fall into the category of a national responsibility. They can't succeed without help from the rest of us.
In that sense, Dana's child is my child, too.