Testifying before the DC Council Committee of the Whole, Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow supported a proposal to increase special education funding in Fiscal Year 2012, but cautioned that proposed cuts to city safety net programs will make it more difficult for many students to learn.
Many District children whose special needs cannot be met by their neighborhood schools are enrolled at private schools that can better serve them. Some discussion has focused on the idea that moving these students out of their specialized placements and into neighborhood schools could save a lot of money. But we advocated that such efforts first require an investment in improving and expanding special education services before long term savings can be realized.
At a public budget briefing, Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) made clear that OSSE is focused on improving the education system so all children can be educated in local schools.
We supported this perspective, as well as a proposed new per-student funding formula that would channel more money toward building the capacity and improving the array of special education options.
However, this investment could be undermined by proposed cuts to the District’s homeless services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and children’s mental health services. These devastating cuts would make it harder for children to do well in school.
A growing body of research shows that the extraordinary stress of childhood poverty (and associated problems of homelessness, abuse and neglect, malnutrition and exposure to violence) can physically harm children’s brain development. This can lead to cognitive impairment and health problems that impact children’s ability to learn. Cuts to safety net programs would literally create the need for special education services.
Sandalow urged the Council to acknowledge the educational cost of these harmful cuts and to consider all options to restore funding to children’s mental health, homeless services and TANF.
Read the full testimony here.