Letter to the Editor:
Thank you so much for doing the article about me and my son in your June 12 issue. I love what I do and I love spreading the word about the cause of special education, which is a complex one. I am flattered to have been invited to an event with the governor, but our achievement in passing HB2 is just one small step in a long process.
It's unfortunate, that the way the system is set up now, that it pits family against family in a community. It makes our situation (as families living with special needs) worse rather than better. There is so much information about special education funding that the general public does not know, that they should know.
Way back in 1975, our federal Congress passed legislation and updates and funding changes to what is now known as IDEA or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The changes that Congress made were so significant at the time, they realize that this wouldn't be possible for states to implement. So, the federal government agreed that for the cost of every child that needs special education, the federal government would fund 40 percent of the cost of that child.
To date, the federal government has never funded more than 18 percent. When IDEA was up for reauthorization in 2004, they then promised that it would be fully funded by 2011. Since then, funding has actually dropped from around 18 percent to 17 percent. Now, I get it, you can't get blood from a stone and the federal government has deficits as well. However, we have the best-funded military on the planet as well as the best-funded prison systems. I think we could find the money.
So the burden fell on the states. I believe on average, states fund about 40 to 50 percent of the cost of a student in special education. During the past few years, Pennsylvania's state contribution has dropped from around 48 percent to the low-30 percent range.
A decrease in funding does not mean a decrease in need, so who is picking up the slack? The local taxpayer. I am not only a parent to a child with special needs, I'm a local homeowner and taxpayer, so I get it, I really do. When my son was first diagnosed in 2007, the statistic being thrown around for autism was 1 in 120 or so. Now, the latest Center for Disease Control survey tells us it's closer to 1 in 50 who will be diagnosed with autism. The need is not going away.
Our national average spending per pupil, per year is about $14,000. For prisoners, $34,000. And over half of our prison population has learning disabilities or other mental health conditions, despite only making up less than 20 percent of our general population. Chester County residents, do the math. We need to help these kids now, or we pay for it later. It's that simple.
I urge you to contact your legislators and tell them that education spending, all education spending, is a priority for you and your family.