Budget cuts are nothing new for school districts across the country. Each year, most schools are forced to do more with less money. The biggest problem with this is that there is less money for many of the students who need it the most. Special education numbers across the country are going up. Now, a new factor may hurt children with special needs more than many understand.
Funding for special education has traditionally been low. The federal government has never fully backed up the monetary needs for students with special needs. About 30 years ago, schools were allowed to bill Medicaid for some of the therapies that students received. These services cost a lot of money, and this helped them a lot over the years. The downside is that a lot of school districts heavily rely on Medicaid supplements for their special education budgets.
While this may not have been a problem in the past, it is now. The concern is that the new proposed health care bill has national budget cuts already factored into it. One of these is a massive cut to Medicaid. This could impact mental health services, physical therapy, speech therapy, wheelchairs, equipment needed for students, and other specialized services. If this passes the Senate, it will then become the states’ responsibility to pick up the funding.
The initial impact may be cut at the school level. Districts may have to let specific school professionals go. This could impact school nurses the most, because many of them may have their salaries covered by Medicaid money. Some districts may be able to compensate for the loss with higher taxes to save some positions, while others will not be able to. In the end, if a school nurse is let go, the entire school is affected, not simply the special needs children. Other outcomes could be less social workers or counselors who work with children who have specific mental, social, and emotional needs.
School administrators and professionals need to reach out to their elected officials. Let them know how this could impact their students. Invite them into your buildings to see what the funding covers and how it helps the children. Explain to them what would have to be cut, what it would mean for the students, and how it could hurt their educational experience. The more real it is for everyone involved the easier it will be for them to understand what is happening to schools which rely on Medicaid money for students.