Saturday, February 7, 2015

IEP and the Misguided Fool

For those of you that have a school age child with special needs, I probably don't need to go into a lengthy explanation of what an IEP is. For those who don't, here in the states, an IEP is an Individualized Education Program, which is basically an annual (or in some cases semi-annual) meeting that brings parents, educators, therapists, and school administration together as a team, to develop educational goals for your child for the school year.

As a parent, I am eternally grateful for these meetings, as it gives Sarah and I the opportunity to work directly with Mira's teachers and discuss what are the most effective approaches for her and what types of therapies are most beneficial for her development. While it is difficult to establish and document progress with Mira, as she is non-verbal, non-communicative, and non-ambulatory, her teacher and staff does an excellent job of articulating Mira's progress on paper for her IEP, so that we as a team can best target what Mira needs throughout the year. Education obviously looks very different with Mira and writing her IEP goals is often challenging. I cannot say enough positive things about her teacher, paras, therapists, and the staff at her school. It is the best situation for Mira and she benefits incredibly from being at school every day,

The State of Kansas however, is a whole different story. Technically, Mira will be heading into the 4th grade in the fall, therefore we have been doing IEPs for 5 or 6 years now. The IEP process in Kansas (and I assuming most other states) begins well before kindergarten, with evaluations and strategies for early childhood therapies beginning at age 3. Over the past several years, it has become appallingly apparent that the Governor of Kansas does not value education as much as he leads everyone to believe. With all of the horribly misguided tax policies developed back in 2012, the public education system inevitably takes a punch to the stomach, year after year to offset such terrible decisions introduced by Brownback.

Mira is highly dependent on ESY (Extended School Year) benefits. ESY allows Mira to attend school during the summer, while being able to receive therapies and instruction at school with the same teachers and paras that she has during the regular school year. It's wonderful for Mira, as she needs a constant routine during the year to keep her stimulated and to continue her progression with her therapies.

For the third year in a row, the state has cut ESY and the upcoming year will be no exception. I would have to confirm this statistic, but I would guess that her upcoming ESY schedule is roughly half of what it was 3 years ago. If she was going to school 5 days a week for 8 weeks in the summer, we are now down to 3 days a week for 4 weeks. Not only is her schedule cut, but now a child with special needs actually has to 'qualify' to receive ESY benefits, through a documentation process and a final determination by administration as to whether or not they will 'benefit' from it.

Over the past few years, I have become truly embarrassed to live in this state. The policies of one person are slowly eroding the fundamentals and basis of public education. The governor is an outright liar when it comes to avoiding education cuts and children like Mira ultimately suffer from his self-serving policy. The priorities of Kansas are no longer on education and have shifted to providing exclusive incentives for the extremely wealthy, as summarized here:

'For the second time in six months, a Kansas court panel ruled that the state is still not spending enough money on education to “provide a suitable education for children.” In June, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state must increase funding for public K-12 schools to comply with Kansas law mandating that public schools are funded at constitutionally required levels. However, as is their habit, Brownback’s Republicans disregarded the Kansas Constitution and Supreme Court ruling and slashed funding for the state’s public schools to both provide tax cuts for the wealthy and keep their population ignorant. Keeping the population dirt-stupid worked nicely for Brownback’s re-election; particularly after his Koch brother trickle-down tax cutting scheme demolished the state’s economy.'

If you have to resort to court rulings to intervene with your governor's pathetic policy and still have it ignored, your state might have some serious problems that need to be addressed. 

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