TN just passed a voucher bill for about 18,000 TN students with IEPs for “Autism, Down’s Syndrome and other severe mental disabilities, deaf and blind children, and those with severe physical disabilities.” It looks like the current plan is to take about $550 per month, per child from the public schools and allow families to use that payment for private, charter or homeschooling their special needs child.
You won’t hear the families of special needs students chirping out cute slogans about Special Ed not being broken, just underfunded. That is a vacuous comment from people who have not experienced what it is like to have a child with a severe disability. People who haven’t been told repeatedly by school system employees that all schools can do is babysit special ed students. Special Ed families have had the phrase ‘third rail’ spat at them so many times that money comments burn and sting. We have seen how every new penny brought in the schools for Special Ed gets put toward outside advisory groups and more administrators.
For many Special Ed families, school is where their child is not wanted. That is a fact, not a fiction. So, the promise of an option is not ‘reformer speak’ but is something that Special Ed families have been seeking for decades. Special Ed has been around far longer that the current reform/deform movement.
After dedicating an entire month to journaling the day to day life of a Special Ed student after school has ended, I am disappointed to say that there is no point in attempting to explain any of this to people opining about education politics. They do not care. They do not want to hear from Special Ed families. The NTs want to make all the big decisions for your family without having any knowledge of you or your child. The I in an IEP is just a letter to them. They are only concerned about money. They have no idea that Special Ed students will be physically and psychologically abused by parochial schools who think our children need more discipline and less evil spirits. They don’t care that not only will some students thrive in a home school environment, but there are schools who encourage parents to keep their child at home. Have I mentioned that many schools won’t miss us? They won’t. I have had it said to me and I have listened to it said to other parents during and after their IEP meetings. This is not a psychic vision. It is life experience.
The voucher advocates have tossed a pawn in the trash to suggest that there is a school that can do something different. A magic school with a secret spell that will make severely disabled children better is the dream that families never stop seeking. Every Special Ed parent has thought about it. Now, parents will look for that school, not find it and loudly ask for more schools. As long as we don’t hold incoming Charter Schools’ feet to the fire and demand Special Ed Charters, the demand for new Charters will not stop. For that to happen, people would have to actually listen to Special Ed families. That’s not going to happen. Instead, people will rage at this legislation and the end result will be Special Ed students continue to be pariahs. We’re why they can’t have nice things.