Money for special education students on sequester chopping block

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by Cleve Bryan, 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 27 at 7:21 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH--Parents of children with special needs may want to keep an eye on Washington where the sequester could mean a $13.9 million cut from the disabilities education budget in Virginia.

That amount is nearly equal to the $14 million in sequester cuts to all K-12 education in Virginia, even though experts estimate special education students only make up about 10% of all students.

Maureen Hollowell is the Director of Advocacy and Services for the Endependence Center in Norfolk.  She says the sequester cuts hit special ed disproportionately hard because much of the costs associated with special education are paid with federal funds.

13 year-old Myra Fisher has several disabilities that require extra help at her school, Princess Anne Middle in Virginia Beach.

“She loves school and it's the highlight of her day but it's a job to get her in there and let her participate," says her mother Deirdre Fisher.

Myra's education plan includes special devices for communicating and extra teacher's aides, which all cost money.  Advocates for the disabled point out that schools are obligated by law to pay these types of costs, but the sequester could make budgeting challenging.

"There are just not a lot of places that you're going to be able to cut," says Hollowell.

The Endependence Center helps about 800 people with special needs.

Hollowell says schools will have to really roll up their sleeves to identify any cuts they can make to special needs before new budgets start in July.

"If the school divisions can take advantage of this opportunity of time to plan for those cuts and not just make arbitrary decisions, I think that families can step forward and help those school divisions to make ways to make these cuts so that students don't have a negative impact,” says Hollowell.

Deirdre Fisher hopes politicians in Washington can work together to avoid the cuts altogether.

"When I negotiate for services for Myra I don't sit there and stamp my feet. I mean, it's like what's necessary.  What do we need to provide the services to our obligations?” asks Fisher.
 

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