Monday, February 7, 2011

Education cuts in Texas would hurt special needs students, prompt legal action

Jack writes on the coming battle in Texas over the state education budget and considers the communities these cuts will most affect:

Over the past few days there’s been much rumbling in Texas about the prospect of extensive cuts to the Lone Star State’s education budget, adding some irony to Gov. Rick Perry's slogan, "Texas is Open for Business." Quintessentially conservative, the Texan approach of  slashing public services by 10 percent to address a $27 billion budget shortfall is being viewed as a model for other states similarly afraid to broach the issue of tax hikes. The true extent of these cuts and their consequences is now being seen in their effects on special needs students.

Courtesy: theatlanticwire.com
A (Much Needed) Lawsuit in the Making
Currently, the Texas Senate is considering legislation that would effectively freeze new enrollment at the state’s School for the Deaf and School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. What’s more is that legislation would also reduce the full-time staff on-call at both schools, which serve hundreds of students who were unable to receive adequate care in the wider public school system.

However, on Monday the senate’s education committee members were warned by special needs education experts that this tactic could cost the state millions more in the long-run through lawsuits. Thankfully, it seems that the Federal government’s Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is likely to prompt a flurry of lawsuits from rightly outraged parents of the special needs students Texas would hurt if these cuts are implemented.

Getting Organized Around the Law
It’s sad that states legislatures across the country find it more convenient to hack away at already meager education funding before having a heated but needed conversation about raising taxes to realistic levels (Texas famously doesn’t have a state income tax). However, it’s reassuring to know that parents are getting organized and willing to take action against cuts to essential educational services.

It’s also good to know that even if state legislators might loathe it, the Federal government can serve an effective and active role in making sure these budget cuts don’t hurt the communities that need stable resources. An organized national effort could counter this wave of budget cuts and there’s also plenty of good legal arguments to be made against any further cuts to resources for low-income students and students of color. We just need to get organized.

While existing Federal law could help stem the austerity tide, this sort of action also brings attention back to a discussion started last summer over making quality education a Constitutional right.

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