Each branch of the military has a program that considers the services needed for a child with special needs when a transfer or new assignment is in order. But what can the administrators of the military’s Exceptional Family Member Programs do when the transfer is to Texas? The answer: not much.
Texas, the state with the second highest number of military personnel, has just been outed by the United States Department of Education for capping the number of children that can be identified as handicapped at 7.5 percent when the national average is 13 percent. Further, recent articles in The Houston Chronicle have focused on military personnel’s children with special needs assigned to Fort Hood who are unable to get adequate services within the Killeen Independent School District. It’s a colossal foul-up, an insult to military families, the action of a small-minded state and a totally solvable situation.
In President Trump’s skinny budget for the fiscal year 2018, the Department of Education is set for a $9 billion haircut. Don’t leave the dollars on the barber’s floor, reroute them to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. Here are the national benefits that would be provided:
First, the skinny budget left special education funding untouched from the prior year’s level of $12 billion. That $12 billion covers about 15 percent of special education costs across the country. With another $9 billion, the feds would pick up about 26 percent of the tab, still short of the promised 40 percent. However, 26 percent would be an all-time high percentage contribution for special education from the federal government and an enormous help to state and local school budgets. The President’s specification of an additional $9 billion for special education would make it very difficult for the Senate not to go along.
Next, within the $9 billion of fresh money for special education, use a portion to create a portable Individualized Education Program (IEP) program for children with special needs within the United States military. If a child has autism and the IEP calls for applied behavior analysis and speech/language services at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the child should have the same disability and IEP-specified programming at Fort Campbell, Kentucky or Fort Hood, Texas.
Furthermore, the additional money could be used to upgrade special education programs on military installments and those in adjacent public school districts to state-of-the-art. Fortunately, some military-based and adjacent schools are already exemplary, but too many are not. Tie this program enhancement funding to existing impact-aid formulas. Superior special education programs available to military families will have a positive impact on morale, recruitment, retention and, most importantly, on the students’ lives. In addition, having model special education programs in adjacent public school districts is a huge chamber of commerce win. Families move to school districts offering their child with special needs the best opportunity. What school superintendent wouldn’t love to have families move to the district for the quality of its special education program?
Military families are relocated frequently and should not have to start from scratch with the IEP process at each new location, losing months to years of services. A portable IEP could become a model for the nation where the needs of special students are clearly and competently diagnosed and addressed regardless of where students live or where they might move.
Mark K. Claypool and John M. McLaughlin, Ph.D. are CEO and Executive Vice President respectively of ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy, and Education and authors of How Autism is Reshaping Special Education: The Unbundling of IDEA (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)