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New York Wins “Race to the Top” but Throws Students with Autism under the Bus

Posted Oct 11 2010 12:00am

UnderTheBus_oxy[1] If you live in NY, please send this alert to Albany: HERE

By John Gilmore

Several weeks  ago New York received the good news that our state was one of the ten winners of federal “Race to the Top” education grants. More than $700 million federal dollars will be made available to our schools. It is doubtful, though, that any of that will be spent on special education, and especially not on student with autism. While New York schools are supposedly “racing to the top,” the state Board of Regents recently voted to gut basic minimum standards of education for students with autism with the expressed goal of rolling back state educational standards to the minimums allowed under federal law. In other words for students with autism the goal is a “race to the bottom.”
Describing their efforts to cut education for students with autism as “mandate relief” the New York Regents voted to do the following 
•  Eliminate the minimum required amount of speech therapy specified for students with autism
•  Eliminate maximum class sizes for students with autism
•  Expand public school speech therapists’ work load to 65 sessions per week
•  Eliminate the requirement that a student’s teacher have access to a copy of a student’s individual education plan (IEP)
These are all proposed under the pretext of cost saving. The New York Board of Regents think that not allowing a student’s teacher to know what is in a student’s Individual Education Plan is a cost-saving. And despite the claimed motivation of saving money, neither the Board of Regents, nor anyone else, has ever quantified how many real dollars would be saved, probably because they would also be forced to quantify the cost of providing kids with autism baby-sitting rather than education.
All of these really bad ideas have been kicking around for years, but they received a big boost with the 2008 report of a blue-ribbon commission on property taxes put together by Governor Eliot Spitzer. You might recall that Spitzer was the former New York Governor who resigned because he wasn’t competent enough to get together with a high-priced hooker without getting caught and committing wire fraud, violating the Mann Act and a couple other federal charges in the process.

The Spitzer property tax commission was lead by former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who at the time was a rapidly rising political star. Suozzi so grossly misread the mood of his Long Island constituency in 2009 that after two terms in office he ended up losing by 377 votes out of 250,000 cast. A quarter of the Suozzi Commission report focused on how to cut special education, and autism was the only medical disorder mentioned in the report.
Here’s the take away for New York politicians: it ain’t smart to talk about cutting special education when almost 15 percent of all students are enrolled in special ed. That’s a lot of votes. Get it?
Poor old Tom couldn’t quite figure out the math of that proposition, I guess, and a guy who the Manhattan media was talking about quite seriously as a potential Governor or Senator, perhaps even the first Italian-American president, got whipped by an out-of-nowhere GOP challenger. Now Mr. Senator-or-Governor-in-Waiting is employed as the head of the high school sports program on the Long Island cable news.
But it was the New York State Regents who made these ridiculous decisions. The Board of Regents is an appointed body that sets policy for the New York’s public schools, colleges and universities. It has a lot of clout, and its current Chancellor is Merryl Tisch. Tisch also served on the Suozzi Commission.
Tisch is an Upper-Eastside-lady-who-lunches who owes her seat on the Board of Regents to the fact that she married into the Loews and Lorillard tobacco mob that made most of its boodle by hawking Newport brand discount cigarettes to African-Americans and poor people. To be fair, Tisch and her husband divested themselves of the tobacco business (for a significant profit) in 2008. Now most of their loot comes from the much more respectable insurance business.  Tisch has never attended a public school according to her CV, and I would doubt her children have either.
For whatever reason, Tisch has it in for both special education in general, and autism in particular. These policies have to go, and Tisch has to go with it. Anybody who can’t understand why a teacher needs a copy of a student’s IEP really should go back to having lunch with her fellow gazillionaires, not setting educational policy for an extremely complex state of 20 million people.
The entire Board of Regents should go, but Tisch is the head of that group and her participation in the Suozzi Commission as well, is a clear indication of her values. Especially since these ideas have been proposed numerous times in the past and never got anywhere.
Fortunately, the decision isn’t solely up to the Regents. A series of public hearing have to be held that hopefully will be packed with outraged taxpayers. The final decision is up to the Commissioner of Education, who is appointed by the Governor. Given that this is an election New Yorkers have the opportunity to lean heavily on whoever the next Governor may be.

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