The Provincial government issued a potentially promising announcement today about plans to restore targeted funding for special education. The official announcement does not provide much detail to draw conclusions from, but it does raise three key questions:
1. How much new money??
The Minister says the new funding will be in the range of "tens of millions" so perhaps $20 million (a drop in the bucket when spread across BC's 55,000 designated students with special needs) or $90 million (which could really make a serious dent in addressing challenges, if allocated effectively).
In our recent brief to the provincial budget committee, MOMS urged an immediate reinvestment of targeted special education grants totalling $110 million (basically this would simply restore the targeted grants for high incidence students that Christy Clark eliminated when she was education minister in 2002), and take us back to where we were in 2001.
- It would not cover additional needs due to rising numbers of students with special needs (special needs enrolment is up around 5% since 2000/2001)
- It would also not cover the additional costs of staff salary/benefit increases since 2001 (teacher salaries rose by ~ 27% in the past decade)
2. How will it be allocated??
Another question is how the new funds will be allocated and who gets to decide that. The notice suggests that teachers, their union and administrators would decide which are the neediest classrooms that can access this new funding to provide extra classroom supports.
The idea of a select group controlling access to these funds based on a competitive process and subjective assessments of which classroom has the most urgent needs could be very problematic. Especially so if these decisions are made by staff unions and administrators, as described, without input or review from parents, students and other stakeholders.
The BC government is coming under fire in the wake of a new report that strongly criticizes the Province's system of supports for children and youth with special needs and their families.
The report is titled "Isolated and Invisible: When chidlren with special needs are seen but not seen." It stems from an investigation launched by Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond's office after horrific media reports about a young girl with Down Syndrome who was found home alone and unattended 9 days after her mother died.
The report comes just months after BC's new Premier took office, promising an agenda for reform that would involve listening and putting "families first." Turpel Lafond urges Ms. Clark's government to act urgently to develop and implement a new strategy to address serious gaps in support for some of BC's most vulnerable children and their families.
The BC Association for Community Living issued a press release today reinforcing the findings of Turpel Lafond's report.
Meanwhile, concerns about serious gaps in the province's system of supports for children and youths with special needs were highlighted again last week with the heart-breaking story of an Abbotsford Dad whose daughter was removed from the home and placed in a psychiatric facility. The single father was struggling to raise two daughters with autism, without adequate family supports, and MCFD removed one of the daughters after she wandered away from home - a frequent challenge for many individuals with autism.
More disturbing news is emerging around the growing crisis in services funded through CLBC, the agency responsible for supporting adults with severe developmental disabilities.
In today's Victoria Times Colonist, Lindsay Kines reports on new CLBC documents that reveal the BC government is forcing community agencies to make further cuts to offset new costs and new demands.
Meanwhile, the BC Association for Community Living has issued a news alert, noting that BCACL has written Premier Christy Clark asking her to urgently respond to the growing crisis. The BCACL statement includes new budget numbers, based on CLBC's own figures, that show the BC government needs to address a $137 million funding gap in community living budgets by 2014.
If you haven't already written the Premier to urge her intervention, MOMS invites you to support our campaign by doing so ASAP. For more info, please visit the BC Community Living Action Group, the ad hoc network of family groups, service providers, caregivers and staff working to urge government to resolve the crisis in community living in BC.
Please encourage other Biritish Columbians in your circle of contacts to help give a voice to fellow adults whose challenges make it very difficult for them to make themselves heard in the din of BC's provincial politics!
Dawn & Cyndi, MOMS
Several days ago, MOMS removed links to leaked Ministry documents discussing the proposed Provincial Autism Family Centre (PAFC), at the request of Ministry officials who claimed that we were violating confidentiality requirements.
After further investigation, we have declined the request, as the documents do not violate the privacy of any individual and further, because we believe that sharing the contents is in the public interest. We have restored the links and the Ministry briefing notes can now also be accessed directly at this link.
However, we wish to emphasize that the best way to ensure that families and the public are fully and accurately about the Province's plans to address major gaps in services for children with autism and other special needs is for Provincial authorities to demonstrate greater transparency and openness than has been true to date.
Background: We received these documents last summer. After months of further research and investigation, we requested in an Open Letter dated Oct 7, 2010 that the Province clarify several issues and concerns raised in the documents.
In particular, we noted contradiction relating to claims by Provincial authorities that public funding support for PAFC would improve services for children with autism. The leaked Ministerial briefing notes discussed plans to reallocate budgets for existing autism programs to cover PAFC's operating expenses, despite warnings from provincial policy advisers that this would negatively impact access to diagnosis and assesment, for example. In our open letter to Premier Campbell, MCFD Ministry Mary Polak and Rich Coleman, Minister responsible for BC Housing (the source of the promised $20 million capital contribution to PAFC) we raised the following questions: