As Victoria parents prepared for a candlelight vigil at the Legislature Monday Feb 1 to mourn the Province's closure of critical autism early intervention programs, the BC Association for Behaviour Analysis -- the equivalent of the BC Medical Association -- issued a lengthy position statement criticizing these and other recent autism policy changes.
The Association calls for significant increases to the current autism funding levels for preschoolers, for funding to be tied to individual need, and for restoration of the direct funding option for families. It also strongly condemned the lack of consultation over the controversial changes announced by Children's Minister Mary Polak last fall.
"Many people in the Autism community were shocked and disturbed by the closure of all of the EIBI programs and the funding structure changes," the BC ABA statement reads. "...Furthermore, discussions with stakeholders might have resulted in a more sound decision on how to achieve province-wide, equitable access to services for individuals with ASD."
The BC ABA joins parents, advocacy groups and other professionals who have universally panned the province's abrupt autism policy changes, stating that the new provincial funding formula for preschoolers with autism "is not sufficient to purchase intensive behavioural therapy at the level (25-40 hours per week) which research has shown to be effective." The Association cites the example of other Canadian provinces that fully fund the costs of early intervention, noting that "given the discrepancy between provincial funding and the actual costs of implementing an intensive ABA program, few children in British Columbia will likely receive the intensity of treatment that has been empirically shown to improve the core characteristics of Autism." (Emphasis added)
Vancouver and Victoria join the growing list of BC school districts warning that special education could bear the brunt of unprecedented budget cuts projected for 2010-11, due to unfunded costs that the province is downloading on school boards.
Surrey: Last week, Surrey DPAC warned that some $18-20 million in downloaded/unfunded provincial costs will result in program cuts that directly harm students. (Press release attached)
Victoria: Victoria trustees told the Times Colonist yesterday they would have to consider cutting the district's Special Education program to balance their budget.
Vancouver: Last week, Vancouver served notice that up to 800 teachers could be laid off to address a provincial funding shortfall ranging from $17 to $35 million, depending on what the province decides to fund in the upcoming provincial budget. And at a meeting for parents of students with special needs this week, the Board Chair acknowledged that special education was particularly vulnerable to cuts, since staff costs are protected via contracts and class size is now protected by legislation, leaving unprotected services like special education as one of the few areas they can cut.
Virtually every school board in the province is confronting similar choices, given the limited number of unprotected programs, like special ed, that they can cut to make up for unfunded provincial costs, since all boards are required by law to balance their budgets regardless of provincial funding shortfalls. Accentuating the looming threat to special education is that the province only funds half or less of what districts actually spend on special ed - a subsidy that is hard for trustees to defend when schools are being closed and core programs slashed.
At the core of this unprecedented crisis is the growing number of downloaded costs that the province has so far refused to cover in provincial education funding grants. These include further increases for teacher salaries and benefits under contracts that the province negotiated, new provincial carbon tax and carbon offset charges, increases to provincial MSP and WCP premiums, implementation costs of new provincial requirements like Bill 33 and full-day kindergarten, and general inflation, which the provincial funding formula also does not cover.
The provincial government will present its budget for 2010-11 in early March and has to date refused to consider new funding to cover these new costs, leaving districts projecting the largest deficits seen in a decade, and cuts that will seriously impact students.
Vulnerable kids unfairly targeted
Provincial officials are justifying the cuts by stating that districts have to tighten their belts like anyone else. This response fails to acknowledge that districts cannot force most district services to tighten their belts because they are protected by provincially-negotiated contracts and requirements. Staff will not sacrifice pay or benefits and boards must also find a way to cover new pay and benefit increases negotiated by the province. Along with provincial requirements governing a host of activities, from class size to reporting and administrative roles, this means districts actually have very few options or "discretionary" spending that can be cut when they are told to tighten their belts.
In effect, school board "belt tightening" amounts to downloading a provincial budgetary crisis onto the most vulnerable students in our public schools - students with special needs, ESL and Aboriginal students and those who need additional programs and supports to succeed. In failing to provide any policy to protect these programs and students while protecting everything from teacher pensions to teacher-student ratios in law, the province has created an uneven playing field that forces school boards to unfairly penalize their most vulnerable students whenever cuts must be made.
ADVOCACY: What you can do
The harsh reality facing our kids is just emerging and there is very little time to act. Parents and advocacy groups representing students with special needs and other vulnerable groups need to act immediately, by telling their MLAs, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, Finance Minister Colin Hansen and Premier Gordon Campell that it is not acceptable to target BC's most vulnerable students to solve a problem they had no hand in creating.
1. We need to convince government to cover all education costs in the 2010-11 budget before it is presented on March 3.
2. Strength in numbers. We can be most effective if we join with broader groups of parents, PACs and public education advocacy groups to demand that the province fully fund all provincially-mandated costs, including special education - instead of fighting each other for shares of an inadequate budget and ignoring the roots of the problem.
- Contact your PAC and DPAC and encourage them to write the Premier, FInance Minister, Education Minister and your local MLAs - just as Surrey DPAC has done.
- Join our growing Facebook group "Stop BC Education Cuts" to find out what other parents and districts are doing, to find and share information about cuts and to connect with other parents or advocacy efforts in your community.
Next Monday Victoria families will hold a candlelight vigil at the Legislature to protest the closure of the province's critical early intervention programs for autism (see notice below).
Children's Minister Mary Polak stopped funding the province's EIBI programs last fall to save $1.5 million annually, despite the desperate pleas of families and many studies confirming that these programs are hugely effective, saving on average $3 - 5 million PER CHILD in net lifetime costs to society (for more details and sources, see our EIBI Facts).
As a result, at least 70 BC children per year will be denied the intensive early behaviour intervention that provided the only hope for these children and their families of a near-normal life, unless they can afford to privately pay tens of thousands annually to top up inadequate subsidies and susbstitute programs to replicate the benefits that only a full EIBI program can offer.
These children join thousands more in BC who are already being denied access to the early intervention supports and programs that they need, due to foolish and short-sighted policies that place enormous and unnecessary strains on other provincial services, such as education, health care, welfare, community living, social housing, justice, etc etc....
Minister Polak and her colleagues also ordered the closure of a series of other cirtical children's programs (which collectively don't put the tiniest dent in the current provincial deficit). These include the provincial Infant Development, Supported Child Care and Aboriginal Supported Child Care program, the Roots of Empathy program, FASD prevention, child and youth mental health and more - all of which will directly impact children and create significantly higher long-term costs than the meagre short-term budgetary savings.
These actions cruelly target the province's most vulnerable children and directly violate Premier Campbell's 2005 promise to build "the best system of supports in Canada for children with special needs."
We invite families outside of Victoria who can't make it to the vigil to show their support by signing and circulating our petition calling on Premier Campbell to honour his promises to BC's children with special needs and/or by writing their MLAs to remind them that BC families will not rest until these and other programs are restored, and that all children with special needs are able to get the basic help and support they need - in a timely manner and in a form that respects their individual needs and those of their families.
The petition can be accessed online here.
Find out more and support the ongoing FAIR campaign to restore EIBI programs on Facebook
The U.S.-based National Autism Center, which released the landmark National Standards Report last July summarizing the evidence base for various options in autism treatment, has just released a comprehensive manual titled, Evidence-Based Practice and Autism in the Schools. The 181-page manual includes important findings from the Center's National Standards Report, touted as the most extensive analysis of treatments for children and adolescents with ASD ever published.
The Center, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to supporting effective, evidence-based treatment approaches for individuals with ASD. The manual assists educators in selecting and implementing the most effective research-supported treatments for ASD. In addition to providing important information about newly published research findings, it offers guidance on how to integrate professional judgment, family values, and preferences into treatment selection in order to build capacity and implement interventions accurately.
Although obviously written for the U.S. context, the manual should offer valuable insights for educating students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Canadian context as well.
You can download a free copy of the manual or order a print copy for purchase here: