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Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Special Hockey Weekend

I typically write about policy issues on this blog, but I thought many readers would be interested in how I spent last weekend -- at the first-ever American Special Hockey Tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y. Since the historic "Miracle on Ice" game in 1980, when the USA team beat the Soviet Union in one of the biggest upsets of all time, there have been hundreds of events and tournaments. But last weekend was the first time a tournament was held in Herb Brooks Arena specifically for people with disabilities.

Special Hockey: Do You Believe in Miracles? from Mark Miller on Vimeo.

Parent Jean Stimey Winegardner wrote a terrific blog post about the tournament, specifically asking if the word "miracle" is accurate or exaggerated in describing the experience.

"I struggle after every single hockey trip to let you know what it is like at these tournaments. I mean, it’s like any other away game trip, right? Kids play games. Some have rough days. Some have incredible days. You swim in the hotel pool. You explore the town. It’s just a team trip, right?

"But it’s not. Part of it is that some of these kids won’t get a lot of opportunities to travel for sports. Part of it is that these tournaments are a space where it is safe for these players to be themselves. Part of it is that these players, who have to work so hard in everyday life, are heroes on the ice. Part of it is that the players get to relax and form friendships, something that can be so hard for some young people with disabilities. Part of it is that these players put on a ton of gear and kick ass at a sport that you and I would probably suck at.

"But it’s more than that.

"I have never seen nor experienced such sportsmanship, respect, and camaraderie as I do at these tournaments. There is competition and there are fierce match-ups, but there are also games where on-ice rivals help each other and make sure the puck gets to players that don’t skate as fast or that don’t have the same skills. I’m not talking about the coaches. I’m talking about the players helping each other. I’m talking about inter-team congratulations, celebrations, and encouragement between players. I’m also talking about teams skating as hard as they can to win. There is that too. There is some fantastic hockey at these tournaments."

I encourage you to read her post, "Miracles on Ice." And consider subscribing to her blog -- it's better and more engaging than most parent blogs.

You don't have to be a hockey fan to be inspired by these players. Learn more about the American Special Hockey Association and programs in your area.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Administration: Students with Disabilities Have a Right to Play Sports

The U.S. Department of Education has clarified the legal obligations of school districts to provide access to extracurricular sports activities for students with disabilities. In a letter from Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, the department encourages school districts to work with community organizations to expand opportunities for students with disabilities.

Galanter said, "Participation in extracurricular athletics can be a critical part of a student's overall educational experience. Schools must ensure equal access to that rewarding experience for students with disabilities.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan: "Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion, and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or court."

Read "For Disabled Athletes, a Right to Compete in School?" and "What Everyone's Getting Wrong About Special-Ed Sports." Read the full 13-page guidance from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Vote Against People with Disabilities

Around the world, 126 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of those countries.

Today, all but eight Republicans in the Senate voted against ratifying the treaty, which
was modeled after the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Senate actually voted 61-38 in favor of ratification, but a full two-thirds majority was required -- and the count was five votes short.

The treaty was supported by disability advocates, veterans groups, and prominent Republican leaders, including former Senator Bob Dole and Senator John McCain.

I'll let two senators explain for themselves why they voted the way they did:

For:
Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.): "It really isn't controversial. What this treaty says is very simple. It just says that you can't discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act."


Against:
On the other hand, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) apparently doesn't think too highly of the United Nations, saying "I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society."

While supporters of the treaty made the case that the treaty would not change American law, opponents like the Heritage Action for America claimed that it would lead to more abortions, interfere with the rights of parents to homeschool their children, and "erode the principles of American sovereignty and federalism." As crazy as it sounds, those arguments were enough to persuade 38 Republican senators to go on record as opposing the rights of people with disabilities. I wonder if disability groups will remember those 38 when they run for reelection.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Proclamation: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Today President Obama signed a proclamation commemorating the 20th International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The proclamation states in part:

"...we reaffirm that the struggle to ensure the rights of every person does not end at our borders, but extends to every country and every community. It continues for the woman who is at greater risk of abuse because of a disability and for the child who is denied the chance to get an education because of the way he was born. It goes on for the 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide who all too often cannot attend school, find work, access medical care, or receive fair treatment.

"These injustices are an affront to our shared humanity -- which is why the United States has joined 153 other countries around the world in signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls on all nations to establish protections and liberties like those afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While Americans with disabilities already enjoy these rights at home, they frequently face barriers when they travel, conduct business, study, or reside overseas.

"Ratifying the Convention in the Senate would reaffirm America's position as the global leader on disability rights and better position us to encourage progress toward inclusion, equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for persons with disabilities worldwide."

Read the full proclamation on the White House's website.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The President Has Been Reelected. What Now for People with Disabilities?

"I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try."
--President Obama's acceptance speech, Nov. 7, 2012
Here are some reactions from disability advocates.

From American Training, Inc.:
"Obama's Victory Speech Includes People with Disabilities. Will His Policies Do the Same?" Chris Lenois writes, "Yes, people with disabilities are part of the President’s vision of the American dream. Obama used practically the same inclusive language at the start of his 2008 acceptance speech and I’m sure many other U.S. Presidents also have done so. Now comes the work to make the vision a reality."But the election is over, mercifully. Now it is time for the country that President Obama called 'the most diverse nation on Earth' early Wednesday morning to open its arms a little wider and embrace the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities who walk among us."
From the American Association for People with Disabilities:
"AAPD looks forward to working with President Obama, his administration, and Members of Congress to continue to expand employment opportunities, improve access to affordable health care, and increase independence for people with disabilities." AAPD President & CEO Mark Perriello said, “President Obama has a strong record on disability issues. I am confident that President Obama’s second term offers an opportunity for significant progress for Americans with disabilities.” Read more.

From Autism Speaks:

In a blog post titled "The Election is Over. Now What?" Shelley Hendrix of Autism Speaks writes: "Autism doesn’t take a break for the holidays. It doesn’t have a lame duck session. It doesn’t conduct business as usual until it is sworn into office....Our community understands that autism is an urgent public health crisis. Over the next couple of months, we need to continue our 1 in 88 Can’t Wait campaign to ensure that our family members, friends and most importantly, our elected officials, understand that as well....

"We have a lot to do....We must unite this community. We must unite our voices. We can make a difference and we can make change, but that change that we all want to see will come faster when we work together. We can do that. We just have to make a commitment to ourselves and our children that we will.

"The Autism Votes advocacy program makes it easy for you to engage to affect change at the state and federal level for people with autism and their families. Sign up today at http://advocacy.autismspeaks.org/register and when we send you an email, take five minutes to open it then make the call, send the email and ask your friends to help you make a difference."


See also "Following Election, Disability Advocates Fear Budget Cuts," from DisabilityScoop.com.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Disability Policy and the Election: A Wrap-Up

Still trying to decide who to vote for? Want to easily share a summary of the top issues to people with disabilities? Review this blog's most popular posts this election season:

Easter Seals on Campaign Issues: Exclusive Interview. The head government relations official at Easter Seals on the record of the Obama Administration, health care reform, special education, and key differences between the candidates' positions.

Thank You, Ann Coulter! A response to Coulter's offensive use of the "r-word."

Ayn Rand and Disabilities: Part 1 and Part 2. Why author Ayn Rand is relevant to this year's election, and her shocking disdain for people with disabilities.

Advocates Agree: Health Care Law is Good for People With Disabilities

Obama vs. Romney: The Bottom Line

All things considered, the 2012 presidential election comes down to one issue for people who care about people with disabilities -- and that's health coverage. Put aside the misleading attack ads and confusing statistics, and consider the following facts.

  • Fact 1: The Affordable Care Act prevents insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions or disabilities.
  • Fact 2: The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid coverage for people with disabilities.
  • Fact 3: Governor Romney has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office.

From the Arc of the United States, read "How the Affordable Care Act Helps People with Disabilities."

Having a major health need, or a chronic health need like a disability, can easily lead to bankruptcy even for working Americans. In Massachusetts, Governor Romney implemented a plan very similar to the Affordable Care Act. Now he wants to deny coverage to 45 million Americans, including veterans, families living in poverty, and people with disabilities. Is that the America we want?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

VOTE -- and Do It Early If You Can. State-by-State Info



 A Message from the Association for Americans with Disabilities (AAPD):
"We would like to take this time to remind everyone that Election Day is fast approaching, and that for many, it has already begun. You have a lot at stake in this election. Many issues like employment, education, and health care will have a real impact in your life and the lives of people you care about. These are issues that affect all of us. Whether it’s you personally or a family member, friend, neighbor, grandparent, parent, or child who has a disability; together we will make sure important programs are preserved. But whatever your issue, whoever your candidate; your vote is important. Join us and the AAPD community by voting early. Your strongest civic tool is your vote and early voting is the best way to ensure your vote is counted. We hope that you are able to get out to vote and make your voice heard. In many states, early voting has already begun. Find out when and where early voting is available in your area."
Check the early voting schedule for your state.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Krugman: This Election Is Really About [Which Program?]


Writing in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman says that in many ways, this election is all about Medicaid. That's because if Governor Romney wins, his plan will deny health coverage for up to 45 million people who will have coverage if President Obama is reelected, and two-thirds of those people are current Medicaid recipients. 
More than 9 million Americans benefit from both Medicaid and Medicare, most of them elderly or disabled. Krugman outlines the program and its beneficiaries and points out a fact that would surprise many people -- most Medicaid recipients are in working families.
"For those who get coverage through the program," Krugman writes, "Medicaid is a much-needed form of financial aid. It is also, quite literally, a lifesaver. Mr. Romney has said that a lack of health insurance doesn’t kill people in America; oh yes, it does, and states that expand Medicaid coverage show striking drops in mortality."
Another perception that Krugman corrects is that Medicaid is poorly managed, with skyrocketing costs. Actually, Medicaid controls costs better than the rest of our health care system -- the average cost of care for adult Medicaid recipients is about 20 percent less than it would be under private insurance, and the difference for children is even larger.
Krugman concludes: "By any reasonable standard, this is a program that should be expanded, not slashed — and a major expansion of Medicaid is part of the Affordable Care Act. Why, then, are Republicans so determined to do the reverse, and kill this success story? You know the answers. Partly it’s their general hostility to anything that helps the 47 percent — those Americans whom they consider moochers who need to be taught self-reliance. Partly it’s the fact that Medicaid’s success is a reproach to their antigovernment ideology.
"The question — and it’s a question the American people will answer very soon — is whether they’ll get to indulge these prejudices at the expense of tens of millions of their fellow citizens."




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scary Statistics: Romney's Plan Would Deny Coverage for 30-37 Million Americans

Governor Romney has said several times that he wants to turning Medicaid into a block grant program to the states. A good idea? Sure, if the goal is to take health insurance away from tens of millions of poor people, which is what a new report says it will do. Oh -- and it will also reduce benefits for other Medicaid recipients. And if Romney keeps his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, even more people will lose their insurance.

The study comes from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation's Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. By cutting Medicaid spending by $1.7 trillion between 2013 and 2022, the plan would save $810 billion -- by kicking tens of millions of poor people out of the program. And estimated 14.3 million to 20 million Americans would no longer be eligible. By repealing the Affordable Care Act, another 17 million people would not be able to get health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The report says it could be much worse. "If there are no requirements that federal payments be matched by state contributions, states could reduce state spending more than federal spending and these enrollment estimates would be understated.” And state payments to hospitals and nursing homes could fall by more than 20 percent, likely resulting in reduced services for seniors in long-term care facilities. So in other words, the people most affected by these cuts would be people with disabilities, poor people, and seniors.

Read the MSNBC article.

Download the 21-page white paper from the Kaiser Family Foundation.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coelho: "No President Has Done More for the Disabled Community"


From the Disability Power & Pride website, here's a message from former House Majority Whip Tony Coelho, a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities and a primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Friends, serious challenges confront our great nation. In the next four years, decisions will be made that will impact us as people with disabilities, our neighbors, friends, and families. Ask yourself who do you trust to make these tough decisions? A President that works tirelessly for our rights or someone who has not listened to our community?
"In the 40 years I have been in Washington DC involved in politics and government - no President has done more for our community than President Obama. Our community just has to look what the health care law does for us -- we probably benefit more than any other community! And I don't have to even go into the Medicaid debate.... Because of the President's leadership and commitment to our community, his administration has upheld our rights under the Olmstead Decision, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and countless programs ensuring people with disabilities have a level playing field. Now is not the time to turn back.
"We possess great political power. It’s simple math. People with disabilities have power when we unite and vote. Let's take pride in our diverse community and unite to uphold the dreams of Americans with disabilities."


Monday, October 29, 2012

How Election 2012 Will Affect Students with Learning Disabillities

If you have a child with a learning disability, make your voice heard on Election Day. From the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), here is a balanced look at policy issues that impact students with learning disabilities. Their analysis covers:

  • Charter schools
  • School vouchers
  • College funding and affordability
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Standardized Testing
  • Universal preschool and early literacy screening

NCLD does a great job by providing a brief summary of each of these issues and offering a more detailed side-by-side analysis that includes their own position. Please share this with anyone you know who has a child with a learning disability of any type.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Truth-O-Meter Agrees with Biden: Not One Democrat Supports Romney-Ryan "Bipartisan" Plan for Medicare

If you watched the vice presidential debate, you may remember this exchange:

Ryan: "This is a [Medicare] plan that's bipartisan. It's a plan I put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon."

Biden: "There's not one Democrat who endorses it."

Ryan: "Our partner is a Democrat from Oregon."


Biden: "And he said he does no longer support [it]."

They can't both be right. And politifact.com's Truth-O-Meter says Biden was exactly correct. Here's the explanation. That's not exactly an example of reaching across the aisle and building bipartisan consensus, as Ryan tried to suggest.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What Romney's Not Telling You About His Economic Plan

No politician wants to run a campaign on a message of "I want to cut programs that a lot of people depend on, and tough times are ahead for children and people who are poor, disabled, veterans, students, uninsured, etc." But as President Clinton said at the Democratic Convention, Governor Romney's numbers don't add up. "It's simple arithmetic," he said.

If you want to take a close look at what the reality of Romney's plan is -- what he's not telling you -- read this report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Romney says:
1. He wants to cap total federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
2. He wants to increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP.
3. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and exempt Social Security from cuts.
4. He wants to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and all other entitlement and discretionary programs by the same percentage.

To do those four things, he would have to cut non-defense programs other than Social Security by 22 percent in 2016 and by 34 percent in 2022. "If they exempted Medicare from cuts for this period," the report says, "the cuts in other programs would have to be even more dramatic -- 32 percent in 2016 and 53 percent in 2022."

But wait, there's more. "If they applied these cuts proportionately, the cuts in programs such as veterans’ disability compensation, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for poor elderly and disabled individuals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), school lunches and other child nutrition programs, and unemployment compensation would cause the incomes of large numbers of households to fall below the poverty line.  Many who already are poor would become poorer." The cuts for non-defense discretionary programs would hit public services like elementary and secondary education, law enforcement, veterans' health care, environmental protection, and biomedical research."

Read the report and see the numbers for yourself.


Friday, October 26, 2012

A Parent's Perspective: "Autism and the GOP"

Back in April, a parent of a child with autism wrote a passionate defense of government programs that support people with autism, and how proposed cuts in the Ryan budget would affect them and their families. Among the programs:
  • Birth To Three: Provides early intervention services
  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act): Mandates a free appropriate public education for ages 3-21
  • SSI: Supplemental Security Income (from Social Security)
  • Medicaid: Health insurance
  • Department of Developmental Disabilities: Provides a case manager, funding and some programming depending upon level of need for individuals that also have an intellectual disability
This parent wrote, "People who have high-functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome, or those who don't have a dual diagnosis of intellectual disability, don't receive services once they graduate from high school. The Bureau of Rehabilitation Services provides services for a limited time and then is phased out.
"IDEA has never been funded properly. Parents constantly and continually have to fight for educational programming. The maze of obtaining services once children turn 18 years old is a nightmare. The quality of services and level of funding now are not adequate, but if the Republicans have their way, it will get worse....

"People with autism are growing up.  They want to live productive lives as independently as possible.  Without early intervention, education and safety net supports, their outcomes will deteriorate.  The numbers of people diagnosed with autism is growing.  Ignoring this issue will not make it disappear....
"In 2012, 1 in 88 children will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  Some of those children will be born into Republican households....Social Darwinism's 'survival of the fittest' doesn't sound so good when it happens to your child and family."
Read the full post, "Autism and the GOP."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thank You, Ann Coulter!

With a few exceptions, the topic of disabilities has been largely absent from this year's presidential campaigns. If it were a top issue, I wouldn't take the time to write this blog. The decisions that will be made in the next four years will have a tremendous impact on people with disabilities and the people who care about them, yet the candidates have addressed these issues only in the context of health care reform and, to a lesser extent, education policy. Autism Speaks even launched a campaign called "1 in 88 can't wait" to try to get both candidates -- or even one of them -- to share their plans to address the needs of the 1 in 88 people who have autism.

With three tweets using the words "retarded" and "retard," you did what disability advocates could not have done without you. So thank you. Specifically:

Thank you for giving John Franklin Stephens a national platform to express the hopes and challenges of people with disabilities. The positive impact he's making will far outweigh the damage that your offensive and heartless attacks have caused.

Thank you for giving people like Amy Gravino a voice. In this powerful video from Autism Speaks, Amy (who has Asperger's Syndrome) asks both candidates to talk about autism and follow up on their words with action for people like her.


Thank you for inspiring people who care about people with disabilities to vote this year. Before your "retard" tweet this week, you had tweeted "I had no idea how crucial the retarded vote is in this election" on Sept. 26. Based on your insensitive remarks, I have to assume you have no friends or family members who are affected by disabilities, but most people do. And you've made our voices louder and our impact greater this election year.

See also:
"Coulter Tweet Should Be a Wake-Up Call for People with Disabilities to Vote," by Chris Lenois at American Training, Inc.
"Ann Coulter Slammed for Using 'R-Word,'" by Michelle Diament at Disability Scoop
"An Open Letter To Ann Coulter" by John Franklin Stephens

Do 6.5 Million Votes Matter?

In an Oct. 11 op-ed titled "Mitt Romney: Do 6.5 Million Votes Matter?" in the examiner.com, Tina Burgess writes about the 6.5 million children who are served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that oversees special education.

Burgess points out that until federal legislation was passed in 1975, only one of five children with special needs received special education services. In 1990, that original legislation -- the Education for All Handicapped Children Act -- was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And under several presidents, including President Bush, the law has been revised to provide additional rights to children and parents and to realign it with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities sent a questionnaire to President Obama and Governor Romney. Only the president responded. Read the questions and answers here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Backlash, Inspiration after Ann Coulter Calls President "the Retard"


Regardless of your political leanings, you have to wonder how any political commentator can get away with this. A slip of the tongue would be more excusable than a carefully worded Twitter message calling the president "the retard."



Read the CNN article, "Ann Coulter's Backward Use of the 'R-Word.'" If anything good can come from such an offensive attack (on both the president and on all people with disabilities), it's this response from a Special Olympics ambassador that's making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter like crazy. I'm encouraged to read John Franklin Stephens' words and to see so many people stand up for him and others. He says in part:
"...After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me.  You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it..."
Please read and share his statement.


See my previous blog posts:

"Rating R-Word Offenses: A Bipartisan Look" (2010)
"Use of R-Word Draws Apology from Bill O'Reilly" (2009)


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mom: "Medicare Saved My Family"

Special thanks to Monique Ruffin -- a mother, author, life coach, and advocate for her son, who has Down syndrome -- for today's post. I spotted her emotional post on the Mom.me website, where she and another mother wrote about "What Health Care Policy Means for Moms." Click to read a counter-argument from a mother who does not support the Affordable Care Act. Monique writes:

"When my son was born with Down syndrome, I was shocked by all the new concerns our family faced. Our hearts were happy and heavy at the same time. We were new parents to a beautiful baby boy whose future was uncertain. After spending the first week of his life in the neonatal unit of the hospital, we brought our son home to begin our journey of loving and supporting him as he grows into his greatest potential.

"We quickly learned to take advantage of the support available from various state and federal agencies. Within weeks we were pointed to our local Regional Center, a federally and state funded organization designed to support children and families caring for people with special needs. By the time my son was 4 weeks old, there was someone visiting my home weekly to assist me and teach me how I can support my son’s development. I was directed to an occupational therapist, a speech and communication therapist, a behavioral therapist, and an eating specialist to help me understand and overcome my son’s challenges. The center also offers classes for parents, including how to potty train children with special needs and how to teach special needs kids to read. The information and resources are invaluable and come at no cost to the families of the children.

"My entire life revolves around my ability to receive the services and tools to support my son, who at 5 years old is thriving—largely because of the assistance and guidance of the Regional Center’s staff and services.

"If the Romney/Ryan ticket wins this upcoming election and we suffer more cuts to the services that like those of the Regional Center and Medicare, what will happen to families like mine? The Ryan cuts—between 50 percent and 75 percent—to Medicaid would drastically decrease the federal dollars. These federal cuts would likely force the states to pick up the cost or drop nearly 19 million Medicaid recipients, including the very poor, seniors, and pregnant mothers. Putting millions of families like mine, who are not able to absorb the high cost of medication and treatments, in dire straits. On the other hand, the Obama plan works with health care providers and hospitals to cut their cost. Obama’s plan also creates a health care mandate for all citizens bringing more people into the health care pool.

"It was my family’s need for support and my connection with other families in far more severe conditions—like a single mother with four autistic children—that inspired me to start writing and getting involved in politics like health care reform. Unless you have a child or close family member with special needs, and have faced the onslaught of medical treatments and therapies he or she requires, you don’t understand how these programs help us stay afloat emotionally, mentally, and physically.

"My heart nearly jumps out of my chest when I consider what will likely happen to our babies if the Medicare proposals of the Romney/Ryan ticket are implemented. I am asking myself, 'Are we are nation that wants to stand by as millions of children are denied access to services that not only create possibilities for them, but also actually save their lives?' It is in situations like this that government is needed to assure that all our citizens have access to services that their lives depend on. Such resources would otherwise go only to those with financial means. Is this who we are? I know firsthand of what President Clinton spoke of, but I also know firsthand the progress of a child whose life has an abundance of possibilities, created directly by the love and the care we receive from these life-saving social services."

Follow Monique on Twitter at @moniqueruffin and read her other posts on Mom.me and the Huffington Post.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Disastrous Educational Agenda"? Voucher Lessons from Milwaukee

One way I collect content for my blog is through Google Alerts for the policy issues that affect people with disabilities. Alerts for Medicaid, Medicare, and health care reform would overwhelm my inbox, and I want to be specifically focused on disabilities -- so I search for the candidates names connected with terms like special education, disability, and disabilities. I've been noticing a distinct trend that my Google Alerts are increasingly critical of the Romney-Ryan agenda in terms of their impact on people with disabilities.

While many (most) in the disability community recognize that more needs to be done to give all citizens equal opportunities, including health care, education, training, and other areas, there is real concern about what a Romney presidency would mean for people with disabilities.

As an example, read award-winning journalist Barbara Miner's latest op-ed, "Romney's Disastrous Educational Agenda: Lessons from Milwaukee" in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Based on her reporting experience in Milwaukee, she writes that "in essence, vouchers are a mechanism to funnel public dollars into private schools. They are an abandonment of both public education and our country's democratic ideals."

In the Milwaukee voucher program, once held up as a national model, only 17.5 percent of students remained in voucher schools after five years, compared with a rate of 43.5 percent for public schools. States tests in math were significantly lower in private schools; reading was about equal.

Miner writes, "Every state constitution in the country enshrines the right to a free and public education for all children—an honor that is not bestowed on other requisites for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, whether housing or employment or healthcare.

"In the current debates on vouchers, there is strikingly little discussion of the relationship between democratic values, civic responsibility, and public education. Instead, education is treated as a mere commodity, with parents and children reduced to mere consumers."

Important to families whose children require special education, in Milwaukee the percentage of special education students in private voucher schools is just less than 2 percent, while it's about 20 percent in public schools. If you are a parent of a child with special needs and think vouchers are the way to go, imagine if you lived in Milwaukee. Do you really think schools with just 2 percent of their students in special ed are investing in the training, staffing, and specialized services that our students require?
Read Barbara's blog, View from the Heartland.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Putting Kids...Last? Cutbacks and the Fate of the Young

One thing the presidential candidates agree on: Our children and grandchildren will have to pay for our budget deficits. But in an excellent article that Democrats, Republicans, independents, and everyone else should read, Eduardo Porter of the New York Times says the problem goes beyond just budget deficits. Read "Cutbacks and the Fate of the Young."
"Right now," Porter writes, "the next generation is getting shortchanged all around, with children too often treated as an afterthought in policies meant to appeal to their elders." The United States has the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world, but federal spending on children is actually going down. From education to child nutrition to Medicaid, the CBO projects that spending fell 1 percent last year and will fall another 4 percent this year. And that's without the types of cuts that would likely result from the budget proposals that Governor Romney and especially Rep. Ryan have called for. State and local spending for children is also falling.
Porter points out other concerns -- intolerable rates of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and illiteracy. He writes, "Unsurprisingly, perhaps, half of American children born to low-income parents grow up to be low-income adultsInvesting in children is not just a matter of fairness but of economic vitality. Early interventions to help disadvantaged children can have an enormous return. They improve children’s cognitive and social abilities. They promote healthy behavior. They increase productivity and reduce crime. Investing in education is about as good an investment as a society can make."
But these are not the priorities they should be, Porter argues. In fact, "If Mr. Romney becomes the next president and delivers on his promise to cap federal spending at 20 percent of the nation’s economic product while increasing the defense budget, programs for youth are bound to shrink" even more. "According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if Mr. Romney spared those 55 and over from any changes to Medicare or Social Security, as his campaign has promised, spending on everything else would have to be cut by more than $6 trillion from 2014 to 2022....A repeal of health care reform would drastically reduce health benefits. The budget for Medicaid, which is the biggest federal program serving children, would be cut by almost $2 trillion over 10 years."
But in typical fashion for political candidates, both Obama and Romney are appealing to seniors (who vote) and not children (who do not vote). Rest assured, they tell seniors, Social Security and Medicare are safe for you. But, as Porter points out, "The generation whose taxes will be footing the bill in 2037 doesn’t get the same type of commitment."
The Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution is going so far as to suggest that seniors should shoulder more of the burden to invest in children. "The old are living longer and collecting more benefits than before," Porter writes. "Even under new measures of poverty that account for seniors’ high medical spending, poverty rates among children have surpassed deprivation among the old. Seniors, [the center] suggests, could shoulder more costs so that more of the money from working Americans could be devoted to the young."
Porter concludes, "If the next generation is going to be handed the bill for our budget deficits, we might as well make the investments needed to help it bear the burden. So far, we seem on track to bequeath our children a double whammy: a mountain of debt and substantial program cuts that will undermine their ability to shoulder it when their time comes."
I strongly recommend reading the whole article.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Ayn Rand and Disabilities: Part 2

[Read Ayn Rand and Disabilities: Part 1.]

In this compelling piece, Mike Lux writes, "Ayn Rand Thinks He's a Parasite, but My Brother Kevin Contributes Greatly to Our Society."

About his brother, who has muscular dystrophy and several other disabilities, Lux says, "Kevin is one of those people whom followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy would call a leech on society. Rand believed that people with disabilities were leeches and parasites on society, and that the 'parasites should perish'....

"Kevin has shaped my values and philosophy of life, and given me a perspective on policy issues. Conservatives are obsessed with the idea that somewhere, somehow there are lazy 'undeserving' welfare recipients, but more than 90 percent of government support dollars go to the elderly, people working hard but still below the poverty line because of low-wage jobs, and very disabled people like Kevin – those whose middle-class families like mine would be plunged into poverty if we had to pay for all their medical costs on our own....

"A society that does not value my brother Kevin at least as much as it does the Wall Street titans who grow rich as they speculate with other people's money...is a sick society.

"A government that would cut support to middle-class families trying to support their disabled children, so the wealthy can get more tax breaks -- a government that actually decides to help the wealthy and powerful more than the poor and disabled -- would be a government with no decency. That is what Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republicans are proposing for us. Their hero Ayn Rand would be proud."

Thank you for sharing your personal perspective, Mike.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ayn Rand and Disabilities: Part 1

Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan has said that Ayn Rand's writings are the reason he got involved in public service. While he's tried to distance himself from Rand's atheism, his policies very much follow her views on individualism and capitalism.

Craig Seligman sheds some light on Rand's perspectives in a Business Week commentary titled "Ryan's Hero Ayn Rand Sneered at Disabled Children." Specifically, Seligman points to Rand's novel "The Fountainhead," in which an architect's building is remodeled into the "The Hopton Stoddard Home for Subnormal Children,” whose administrators are described as “zealous ladies who were full of kindness” (a word that Seligman says "Rand almost always invokes with contempt") who admit “only the hopeless cases”:

“There was a 15-year-old boy who had never learned to speak; a grinning child who could not be taught to read or write; a girl born without a nose, whose father was also her grandfather; a person called ‘Jackie’ of whose age or sex nobody could be certain. They marched into their new home, their eyes staring vacantly.”

Seligman writes, "Even if you agree with those conservative Republicans who think a helping hand will only encourage the poor in their lack of initiative ... disabled children?"

Seligman concludes: "It’s easy enough to see how an artist besotted with ideals of perfection might want to reject the ordinary in her work. But politicians ply their trade in the only world we have -- the one that, presumably, they want to improve. When a novelist who despises the world and the people in it becomes their guiding star, we sneer at our own risk."


Ryan on Rand

2005:
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” 
Source: Ryan Lizza, "Fussbudget: How Paul Ryan Captured the GOP," The New Yorker, Aug. 6, 2012

2008:

“What’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”
Source: Jane Mayer, "Ayn Rand Joins the Ticket," The New Yorker, Aug. 11, 2012

Read Ayn Rand and Disabilities: Part 2.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Romney's Voucher Plan: "Disaster for Special Education Students"

Charles Fox, an attorney and parent who writes the excellent Special Education Law blog, provides one of the clearest arguments against Governor Romney's plan to make special education a voucher program. In a post titled "Romney's Educational Vouchers a Disaster for Special Education Students," Fox writes that while choice sounds good in theory, we can't trust the profit-driven market to ensure protections for students with disabilities.

"Charter schools and private schools operate very differently and have different philosophies," he says. "As public schools, charter schools are bound by all of the federal laws pertaining to special education.  It is entirely unclear under this voucher system how many special education students will be accepted to either charter or private schools and what legal protections will follow them. Given Mr. Romney’s hands-off philosophy and market-oriented approach, the likely answer is few if any protections, or as he states derisively, 'regulations' would apply to protect students who opt to use a voucher.

"Congress is authorized to fund up to 40 percent of the cost to educate special education students, bu tin reality, the amount Congress contributes is approximately 16 percent, or $1,950, of the average expenditure per student.The cost to educate a special education student tends to be higher than a regular education student, so profit-maximizing driven private schools will have no incentive to take special education students. The whole premise of better outcomes through competition is very much an illusion for these students."

Some states have experimented with vouchers already -- most notably, Florida under then-Governor Jeb Bush. As Fox explains, "In the McKay Scholarship Program, special education students are given vouchers equal to the lesser amount of the cost of the child’s education in his home school or the tuition charged by the private school he is attending....The amount of vouchers given to these students in 2011-12 ranged from $4,280 up to $18,529; the average voucher was for $6,849." In many areas, this amount would not begin to pay for specialized education for children with disabilities.

And then there's this: "An investigative report by the Miami New Times revealed a 'cottage industry' rife with 'fraud and chaos.' The award-winning author of the report wrote the McKay program was 'like a perverse science experiment, using disabled school kids as lab rats.'" Fraud was reported in 25 of 38 schools. "What came out of these reports and what is particularly troubling is the realization that there is no requirement for McKay schools to be accredited. And because these schools are private, the Department of Education can neither monitor curriculum nor prohibit use of corporal punishment. And finally, because these schools are private, there is no system of assessments to overall gauge the progress of their students."

Many charter schools cater to students with mild disabilities. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) has reported that students who have more significant disabilities are excluded from charter schools through a process of “selectivity, controlled outreach, counseling out, and other push-out practices.” 

Fox asks, "So what happens to the more profoundly disabled special education students or those that cannot or choose to not take the voucher if the special needs students with more mild disabilities (and their dollars) are siphoned out to charter or private schools? Will the school districts be left with the resources to educate these students? Are there really other options for these students?  The clear answer is 'no.' There will be few other options, and the prospect for special education students left in the public schools is dismal at best.

Fox concludes, "Sorry, Mr. Romney, but your education policy seems to be poorly thought out. We cannot put our children at risk and subject them to the tender mercies of the market place. Special education students need more, not less, from the education system....Let’s make the current education system stronger and more accountable. We cannot take a leap of faith that the market will provide for students with special needs when we know the economics, the current data, and common sense all strongly prove otherwise."

Paul Ryan's Vision for the U.S. Education System

Writing in The Atlantic, Jordan Weissmann summarizes Rep. Paul Ryan's plan for education in two words -- "cut" and "privatize." Read "How Would Paul Ryan's Vision Change the U.S. Education System?"

Ryan's budget proposal calls for massive cuts in non-discretionary funding, but does not include specific amount for education or other programs. Current Education Secretary Arne Duncan has estimated that the Ryan budget may cut $2.2 billion from special education funding that goes to the states (currently at $11.6 billion) and $2.7 billion from the $14.5 billion that poor school districts get in Title I funds.

"The House budget report includes a few other interesting details about funding for K-12 and higher education," Weissmann reports. "It suggests killing the interest subsidies on some student loans and curtailing the income-based repayment program for college debt. It would also streamline some of the 82 programs that deal with teacher quality."

"Like most of the modern GOP, [Romney and Ryan are] two men who believe the government needs to move aside and let the private sector handle things. Including teaching."

Vouchers: What Would They Mean for Special Education?

Last night, Education Week sponsored a debate at Teachers College at Columbia University on education between education advisers for President Obama and Governor Romney. I'll post the video and transcript when it's available soon. If you care about education, especially special education and Title I funding for families in poverty, I strongly encourage you to watch the debate. I guarantee it will give you more substantive information on education policy than you'll get in tonight's presidential debate.

In the debate, much time was devoted to the candidates' differing strategies to improve education and choice for students and parents. Romney has advocated turning Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) into a voucher program. Next to health care reform and Medicaid, this may be the most important issue in this election for people with disabilities. The Romney camp argues that vouchers will give families more choice and reward good schools; the Obama camp agrees with the concept of choice, but are concerned about removing the protections that the federal law currently provide.

As background, I recommend these two articles by Nirvi Shah, who does a great job reporting on special education issues for Education Week. Keep up on this and other special ed issues by following her "On Special Education" blog.

Read "Details of Romney's School Choice Plan Emerge," May 24, 2012. Excerpt:

"Many advocacy groups warn parents against using vouchers for students with disabilities because, in doing so, they give up their rights outlined in federal education and disability laws. And they may not know that.

" 'We have to remember that a family with a child who has a disability never really has the same choice as others. By virtue of having a disability that qualifies them for an Individualized Education Program, a private school for instance, would never guarantee via a voucher that they would provide a free appropriate public education and the services outlined in the IEP,' said Laura Kaloi of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
"In addition, the Council for Exceptional Children's Lindsay Jones says that it's the wrong time to consider siphoning special education funding from public schools.
" 'This proposal's potential to take money out of our public school system and place it in the hands of private business is also especially concerning at this point in time,' Jones said. 'School districts around the nation have seen deep cuts in funding over the last few years as our nation confronts a recession, increased needs, and declining revenues. These cuts have impacted districts' ability to provide services to children in need—further cuts won't help.' "
Read "Would Romney Voucher Plan Equalize Special Ed. Opportunities?" June 8, 2012.

Shah cites an article from the Atlantic by a parent and attorney who says "there's already a system of vouchers built in: Schools that believe they can't provide the right educational services and environment a student needs can choose to send that student to a private school, at the public school's expense. It's called private placement."

Shah reports, the author "goes on to say that for Romney's plan to work, state and local special education dollars would also have to become portable, something I can't imagine every state and school board agreeing to. Many special education advocates oppose vouchers, however, because unlike private placements, students lose their protections under federal law—the very law that would be paying for their private schooling under Romney's proposal—IDEA."