Thursday, January 25, 2007

Guest Post: SB10 NOT a Good IDEA

Today we have a guest-post from Ronald Cloud, a parent and an advocate for public schools and for citizens with disabilities. Below, with his permission, I have posted a letter Mr. Cloud sent today to Sen. Eric Johnson, Sen. Robert Brown and Rep. Allen Peake and copied to ten members of the Senate Education Committee regarding SB10, the bill that seeks to offer "scholarships" (read: vouchers) to children with disabilities who elect to attend private schools. Sen. Johnson claims that parents of disabled children are behind this bill. That's just not entirely accurate. The more parents learn about the protections they will forfeit under this legislation, the less they like it.

In reality, this legislation is nothing more than a wedge in the fight to create a voucher program for private schools in Georgia, an initiative that will siphon critical dollars away from already-cash-strapped public schools. I have written about this bill before, and my husband who sometimes represents students with disabilities has also offered his take on the bill. SB 10 is bad news for children with disabilities and, just as they did with the "65% Solution", the Republicans are skewing data to support their purpose. Here's Ronald's excellent letter.

Date: Thu, 25 Jan 2007 01:57:04 -0500Subject: SB 10 - NOT a good IDEA, Please Withdraw and Reconsider

January 24, 2007
The Honorable Eric Johnson
Georgia State Senate

Regards: SB-10 is not a good IDEA

Dear Senator Johnson:

Your attempt to import Florida’s McKay Scholarship program with SB-10:is not worthy of support from your colleagues, does not responsibly address Georgia’s public education challenges,and is a means of abandoning the historic public commitment to accommodate and include children with disabilities in the public schools with their community peers.

Today’s parents of children with disabilities, including myself, owe a great debt to the generation of parents and advocates that secured that commitment from their fellow Americans with the passage of public law 94-142, known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA.

In re-authorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the US Congress found that “the implementation of this title has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities” and that“the education of children with disabilities can be made more effectiveby--`(A) having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, . . . ”

Also, in the lead up to the most recent re-authorization the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education found that “General education and special education share responsibilities for children with disabilities. They are not separable at any level . . . ”

Yes there are shortcomings, unrealized promises, in the educational services provided, or not provided, to children in public schools. IDEA explicitly recognizes that, offers a path toward improvement, and secures student and family standing to negotiate better special educational programs.

The No Child Left Behind laws have helped raise expectations for
students with disabilities by insisting that schools report and are held
accountable for their test scores. I have directly observed some significant changes in special needs placement and instructional practices as a result of recent federal
education reforms and widespread advocacy.

Research and implementation of proven teaching methods, higher expectations, more access to the general education curriculum, monitoring and accountability for results . . .

So, what exactly do you find wrong here?

SB-10 is an instrument of separation and segregation that proposes the expenditure of public funds in private schools or service centers while emphatically prohibiting any added public accountability of their effectiveness.

It is an inducement for disappointed, frustrated, even intimidated parents to sign away the safeguards of federal protection and move away from their child’s rightful place in the community school.

On the school side of the table, where they are required to provide appropriate services as needed and they cannot explicitly refuse to do so because such services are not adequately funded, SB-10 caps the expense and allows them to present the choice to take what we offer or take the state’s money and leave us alone.

I have read SB-10, read your blog entry on defending it,and read the Manhattan Institute’s “study” of Florida’s McKay scholarship program that you cite in support of it. I will endeavor to share relevant observations about the contents of those documents with you in another letter.

In the meantime, I ask that you withdraw SB-10 from consideration. Public education deserves public support and involvement from all of us. It would be an encouraging gesture for the Senate Majority Leader to reconsider this ill advised program.

Please try to find a more constructive means of supporting students,families, schools, and communities in collaborative efforts to realize the ambitions and ideals of IDEA and NCLB.

Ronald Cloud

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