Sound off: How is your school year going so far?

Plus: some fast facts on special education

The air is cooler and pumpkin spice items are back on the menu. Kids are, in fact, back to school, even if it is the most bizarre back-to-school season in living memory.

This week I want to hear from you: How’s it going? Are your kids in school? Are they getting a free and appropriate public education (otherwise known as FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE)?

Those are key terms from the law that requires schools to find children with disabilities and offer them special education. It’s called the Individual with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. The original law was passed in 1975 and though Congress promised its mandate would come with 40 percent of the additional cost of educating disabled students, it never has. (The closest they got was 35 percent in 2009, during The Great Recession’s round of stimulus.)

IDEA did revolutionize the way disabled people are treated in America, but many people in the system agree we have a long way to go to true equity.

In December 2020, the Hechinger Report called the pandemic — and resulting school closures — a chance to reimagine special education. As a candidate, President Biden promised to finally fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan — one of the many post-COVID-19 stimulus packages — included $3 billion specifically for disabled students.

Whether that money is being spent in ways that reimagine special education and instill true equity remains to be seen. What have you noticed in your kids’ schools? Write to me or leave a comment.

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As I’m feeling in that school spirit this week, here are some quick facts about IDEA programs. Don’t worry, no pop quizzes.

Quick facts:

• The special education law’s name was changed in 1990 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA). It was previously called Education for the Handicapped. (Read an interesting history of the law here.)

• In 2018, there were more than 6.3 million students in K-12 and 18-21-year-old transition programs, which was 9.5 percent of Americans between the ages of 6 and 21. (source)

• The nationwide program also served about 410,000 infants and toddlers — or about 3.5 percent of Americans under 2 — in 2018, the last year figures were available. (source)

• Between the ages of 3 and 5, early intervention programs funded by IDEA served 815,000 children, which is 6.8 percent of that age group in 2018. (source)

• Only 46.6 percent of children categorized as having “multiple disabilities” graduated in 2017-18. This was the category with the lowest graduation rate of special education students. (source)

• At the 6-21 year-old level, there are nearly 390,000 teachers and 459,000 paraeducators funded through IDEA. (source)

• Districts are required to spend at least as much on special education as they did the year before. This requirement is called the maintenance of effort and is designed to prevent districts from cutting services. (source)

• It’s difficult to know how much money is spent on special education — either in total across the nation or on any particular special education student. The dollars come from federal, state and local sources and they are not tied to specific students. In general, though, the U.S. Department of Education assumes it costs twice as much to educate a disabled student as a nondisabled student. (source)

Medical Motherhood’s news roundup

• From The New York Times: “The Biden administration looks to expanded child care funds to combat labor shortages.

In a new report released on Wednesday, the Treasury Department painted a dire picture of child care in America, outlining what it called failures by the private sector to provide high-quality care at affordable prices and making the case that the federal government must do more to help families care for their children.

“This is not just happenstance — sound economic principles explain why relying on private money to provide child care is bound to come up short,” the report said.

• From New York Times Opinion: “Home Care Keeps Me Alive. It Should Be Fully Funded.

Home care is literally keeping me alive. But across the country, almost a million children, adults and seniors with disabilities sit on waiting lists for Medicaid’s home- and community-based care, in danger of being removed from their homes and sent to live in institutions.

In his jobs and infrastructure plan introduced this year, President Biden proposed $400 billion for home- and community-based care. That’s what’s needed to clear the 820,000-person waiting list and provide professional caregivers — the majority of whom are women of color — with better wages. Funding for home care would also give new choices to the one-tenth of caregivers — most of whom are women — who were forced to leave their paid jobs or retire early to take care of a loved one.

• From the Chicago Tribune via Disability Scoop: “Tech Firm Helps Youth With Developmental Disabilities Find STEM Career Paths

“That’s our vision, really making sure people get the right connections, whether it’s a job or job center or workforce agency,” she said. “They’re connected with all those career specialists now on the platform; it’s like a social capital network for people with disabilities in Chicago.”

Medical Motherhood is a weekly newsletter for people raising disabled children, and others who care about disabled kids. 

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