Chicago teachers join parents and activists to fight for special education funding

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on November 9 and 10 joined with parents and disability activists to pass out flyers at public schools about their fight to save and improve special education services.

Chicago Public Schools has cut $85 million from the district special education budget.

The cuts mean that there will be fewer clinicians to diagnose and recommend services for children with disabilities, fewer classroom aides, and fewer transportation services.

CPS has also produced a new procedures manual prescribing the process for diagnosing and recommending services for which students with disabilities qualify and need.

According to the task force, the new procedures create barriers to services that students with disabilities need.

Those who passed out the flyers at high schools and elementary schools are members of the Chicago Special Education Task Force.

The task force was created in 2015 to bring together members of CTU, parents, students, and disability activists to fight for quality education for children with disabilities.

In most school districts in the US, special education for children with disabilities is usually an afterthought, which makes special education an easy target for budget cuts.

But cutting the budgets of programs that serve children with disabilities can be a public relations problem for school districts and the elected officials who lead them.

As a  result, those in charge of education budgets sometimes will use stealth to hide the cuts.

For example, the Texas Education Agency has effectively cut funding for special education by setting a target for the number of special education students in a school district to 8.5 percent of total enrollment.

Districts that don’t meet that target face state funding reductions.

The US Department of Education in October ordered the state eliminate the target unless it can prove that the target has not kept children with disabilities from getting services.

Before the state established it 8.5 percent target, 12 percent of Texas students were enrolled in special education programs.

Another way to cut special needs funding is to create artificial barriers to service.

The Chicago Special Education Task Force argues that CPS’ new procedures for providing services to children with disabilities create such a barrier.

The new procedures require a ten-week intervention period during which the district tries to divert students from special education programs. Under some circumstances, the ten-week period can be extended.

According to the task force, the intervention period as spelled out in the new procedures violates federal laws regarding access to special education services.

Sometimes, there is no stealth involved when it comes to cutting special education budgets.

CPS has slashed $85 million from its special education budget. As a result there are not enough classroom aides and clinicians to help children with disabilities receive an education that allows them to maximize their potential.

The task force is demanding that the budget cuts be restored and that the district hire enough classroom aides, social workers, psychologists, therapists, and nurses to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

The flyers that members of the task force passed out on November 9 and 10 urge people to get involved in the fight for special education funding.

The flyers asked people to call the School Board to urge it to restore special education funding and to join the task force’s demonstration at the board on December 7.

On its Facebook page, the task force urged people to, “Join us in fighting to save special education and clinician services! Don’t allow (Chicago Mayor) Rahm (Emanuel) and (CPS CEO Forrest) Claypool to save money on the backs of our students with disabilities.”

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