Defunding Autism Programs is a heck of a way to celebrate Autism Awareness month

April is Autism Awareness Month

On April 13, Mayor Walsh and city officials presented the FY17 budget. At the podium, Superintendent Chang remarked, “We believe that a budget is a reflection of our values” during the BPS portion of the presentation. State and local officials so often equate Budget to Values that it is bordering on a trope. But I want to take them on their word and examine what this FY 17 budget values.

After sustained protests that culminated in 2,000 kids walking out of their BPS classrooms, Mayor Walsh backed off generalized cuts to the high schools. However, previously planned cuts to Special Education are still in place.

Special education is being underfunded by 5 million dollars. The Autism Strands and the Social Emotional Strands are being asked to increase class sizes and less money will be given to the special education students in Inclusion Classrooms.

This isn’t a lean year for the city. The city has increased its budget by 4% but the increase given to BPS is only 1.3%. There was an 8 million-dollar surplus in the budget due to a light winter we had that was completely given to the Parks Department.

So what do we value?

Because the budget cuts specifically target the autism strands and the social and emotional strands, the schools that are getting hit the hardest are the schools with high numbers of these children. The schools that service the most vulnerable children in the city are being asked to shoulder the burden of balancing the city’s fiscal responsibilities.

I would argue that underfunding special education is not only immoral but fiscally unwise.

Later on in the budget presentation, Mayor Walsh lamented the high number of children in the city that are given out of district placements. To those who are not familiar with special education law, millions of dollars are spent sending special education children to specialized schools if the city cannot provide them with an appropriate education. This is because all children have a constitutional right to an education. So if a district cannot provide an education to a child with special needs, they are sent to one of these private schools at great cost (anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 per year plus transportation.)

Not one of the bean counters down at 1 City Hall Square seem able to connect the dots.

If you underfund special education, and increase class sizes for the autism and social/emotional strands, you will have more children who qualify for out of district placement because their parents will be able to argue that they are not being given an appropriate education.

The city will be quick to point out that the class sizes are still within state law. But of course they are. The city would be sued if they weren’t. An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Plan. So the out of district placement decisions are on a case by case basis. It doesn’t matter if the class sizes are in compliance with state law. If the children in these classrooms are not making progress, their parents will have an argument that BPS cannot meet their needs, and that they need to be sent out of district.

Thus these cuts are penny wise and pound foolish.

We need to recommit to our children with special education needs and stop trying to nickel and diming the special needs students. It’s wrong to balance the city’s budget at the expense of the students who need special education services. This is particularly true in a flush year where the budget cuts are only happening because Mayor Walsh decided appropriately funding Boston Public Schools was not something he needed to do.

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