IDEAs about November

Since the election season is just around the corner, and primaries are finally (mercifully) behind us, I’ve only just started considering who I intend to vote for in the upcoming general elections.  I should note that I’ve voted in every election – EVERY ONE – since I became eligible to vote in 1992, and I take seriously my responsibility to be an educated voter.

In the past, I’ve obviously considered other issues than autism – last time we voted for President, the Monster was coming up on six months old and we had no idea that something was wrong.  The last time we voted for Congress, Governor and our state legislature, he was just past two and we were just starting to grasp the concept that it could be autism (he’d just started intake with the Baltimore City Infants and Toddlers’ Program).  To be honest, autism hadn’t even entered into the realm of issues that I’d be considering positions on when I make my choices on that first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Over the last few days, though, I’ve been reading a couple of articles on various reputable websites and in responsible magazines that are giving me some substantial food for thought.

In September, President Obama signed into law the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA).  This reauthorized funding for research for three years, and contained a number of other responses to the problem of Autism in the United States.  As pointed out by AutismVotes.org, the interagency coordinating committee that was supposed to be put into place will not hold its first meeting for another month still – a quarter of the way through the three year term of CARA.  Funding for fiscal year 2013 is also in danger, as it was included with the Affordable Care Act which is not a favorite of the current Congress (to put it in the nicest possible terms).  On the state level, we’re having problems with funding for special needs education in Maryland, despite an additional levy on alcohol sales to supposedly help finance such matters.

While browsing late in the week last week, I stumbled across an article in the Atlantic which covers Governor Romney’s education platform as it relates to IDEA, the law that governs education funding for special needs children such as the Monster.  One has to bear in mind that the white paper and policy statement from which the article draws its information is fairly vague – it’s a policy statement early in the general election campaign.  However, I have to admit that I like what I’m reading here, as it seems far more ‘fair’ to us than the current system that we’re finding ourselves in when we deal with Baltimore City.

Basically – Romney is proposing vouchers.  I’ve never been much in favor of vouchers in the past… but as they say, experience changes your opinion sometimes.  Romney’s proposal seems to be, in essence, that a child’s IDEA funding follows the child, and he’s advocating giving parents a bigger choice in where to send their kids.  At the moment, for instance, we’re in the Baltimore City school system due to where we live.  If I’m reading this correctly, though, he’s advocating that we’d be able to send the Monster to school in the County schools if they offered a better program, or apply his IDEA funding to private schooling if that school’s program better fit his needs.  It seems to me that it’s saying that we’d not be stuck in so much of a ‘take it or leave it’ scenario with the schools as we are now – and believe you me, during the IEP meeting, it often felt a lot like that.

Now, to be wholly fair and honest – we are very fortunate that my health insurance at work helps to cover additional therapies, and that there are appropriate public school options for our son (to the best of our knowledge).  My salary and health care, however, cannot handle the burden if we felt it necessary to move the Monster to a private school.  We also have the wherewithal to push hard for our son – our IEP meeting took five and a half hours this year, mostly because we came well-armed with documentation and were ready to fight – which many parents don’t have as an option.  But it shouldn’t be a struggle.  And I have to wonder if the Romney plan, when it is better fleshed out, will be a better option for our son and for most autistic children in our school district who do not have those advantages.

A primary duty of our government, as we have come to understand those duties, is to provide for the weakest and most helpless among us.  If special needs education does not clearly constitute ‘providing for the weakest and most helpless among us’,  I’d be hard pressed to identify anything that would fit in that category.  Our current government’s policy is not working for a lot of children with autism.  I’d be interested in seeing what the current administration, in seeking a second four year mandate, would offer as adjustments to their current course as its answer to the Romney platform.

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