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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Disability Cuts Could Be Here to Stay

From Disability Scoop

By Michelle Diament
March 5, 2013

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NOTE: In a barbed response to a draft of this post, which he titled, Choking on the Crumpets at the Tea Partynoted Special Education Attorney Robert Crabtree wrote:

"Remember that the requirement in state and federal law that a school district provide a program and services that will enable a student with a disability to make meaningful, effective progress within the least restrictive appropriate environment does not disappear because of reduced funding from the federal coffers.

Nonetheless, prepare to hear the worst from representatives of school districts as the spring rolls around…"

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As sweeping federal budget cuts set in, the impact is starting to become clear for those benefiting from special education and other disability programs.

President Barack Obama issued an order late Friday instituting what’s known as sequestration, a process of deep spending cutbacks that was triggered when Congress failed to reach a budget deal in 2011.

While both Democrats and Republicans insisted that they did not want to see sequestration take effect, the parties were not able to reach a deal to avert the cuts.

Accordingly, some $85 billion will be trimmed from this year’s federal budget, touching nearly all military and domestic programs. Funding will be reduced for numerous initiatives benefiting those with disabilities including special education, housing assistance, employment supports, mental health services and research. Medicaid and Social Security benefits are some of the few areas to be spared.

Disability advocates say it will be a matter of time before the full impact of the cuts is known, but some of the fallout is beginning to surface. Officials at Easter Seals say they’re hearing that the state of Georgia has already used up all of its vocational rehabilitation funds for this year, for example.

And that may just be the tip of the iceberg, according to Katy Neas, senior vice president of gov't. relations at Easter Seals.

“(Families) need to plan for some services and supports that they currently have to not be available to them. There’s going to be a real cut, and with cuts there are consequences,” she said.

A fuller picture will likely emerge in the coming weeks and months, advocates say, depending on how each program is funded. Some programs receive regular payments from Uncle Sam throughout the year, while most school funding is distributed on an annual basis, meaning that cuts from sequestration are expected to alter budgets that will take effect in July.

"Sequestration is coming as school districts are preparing their budgets, and parents are likely to start hearing this spring at individualized education program, or IEP, meetings about changes in store for next year..."

In the case of special education, Obama administration projections show that about $600 million will be cut from the program this year, putting the jobs of 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff in question. Sequestration is coming as school districts are preparing their budgets, and parents are likely to start hearing this spring at individualized education program, or IEP, meetings about changes in store for next year, according to Lindsay Jones of the Council for Exceptional Children, which lobbies on behalf of special educators.

“I don’t know that you’ll see an immediate impact, which is hurting our ability to explain this need to Congress to deal with this situation,” she said.

For the moment, at least, there’s no sign of relief in sight. Neas from Easter Seals said she met with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Monday who indicated that he expected sequestration to remain in effect for the foreseeable future.

About Robert Crabtree, Esq.

Robert K. Crabtree was a founding partner, with Lawrence Kotin, of the Boston law firm Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP, where they established the firm's special education practice.

He graduated from Bowdoin College cum laude in 1967, from Andover Newton Theological School cum laude in 1971 and from the Northeastern University School of Law in 1976. Crabtree was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1977 and to the bar of the United States Supreme Court in 1980.

As Research Director for the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education, he drafted much of the Massachusetts special education law (Chapter 766, Acts of 1972) with Mr. Kotin, and was instrumental in its passage and implementation.

Mr. Crabtree concentrates his practice in the areas of education law and special education law.

In May, 2005, Mr. Crabtree was a co-recipient, with Mr. Kotin, of the Martha Ziegler Founder's Award given by the Federation for Children with Special Needs, recognizing their part in the origins of Chapter 766 and their “decades of dedication to students with disabilities and their families.”

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