FACT Oregon would like to share a story from an Oregon mom who recently traveled to Salem to meet with her legislator for the first time. Heidi is a self-described “non-political person,” but with recent proposed budget cuts hitting the news, she felt motivated and empowered to share her family’s experience with early intervention and special education with her state senator.

Mom Heidi and her daughter IzzyMy name is Heidi Robinson, and my two children attend elementary school in Hillsboro. My daughter Izzy is seven, and was born with Kabuki Syndrome. She experiences intellectual and developmental disabilities as a result of this syndrome, as well as many medical issues. As a parent, I’m concerned about our $1.8 billion dollar deficit and how that shortfall will affect public education. Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education [EI/ECSE] programs are already seriously underfunded, and with the proposed cuts, our district’s K-12 program would be $12 million dollars short for the 2017-18 school year! That’s why it’s so important to advocate in support of continued funding levels for EI/ECSE services and public education.

Early Childhood Special Education [ECSE] services in our state are not meeting recommended service levels. We moved here from Arizona in January of 2015. My daughter has been receiving either Early Intervention [EI] or ECSE services in AZ since she was three months old. When she turned three, she began going to ECSE preschool for 12 hours a week. During those 12 hours, she would meet with physical, occupational, and speech therapists on a 1:1 basis for an hour each week. When we moved to Oregon, however, she had five months left in ECSE before entering Kindergarten. In contrast to the robust services she received in AZ, here she received only four hours a week of ECSE preschool; PT, OT, and ST services were given on an observation and consult method. This was discouraging and meager, particularly when compared to the amount of services we had been receiving. These programs need more funding so they can provide children with the recommended levels of service now to reduce the need for intervention later in a child’s life.

Izzy is now in first grade, and we love her school and teachers. However, we are very concerned about budget cuts to education and the impact that would have on special education [SPED]. These services are already running on a budget that is too small. Current SPED teachers have a caseload of 38:1, and with more budget cuts, these caseloads will only increase. Hillsboro is an inclusion school district, which means that it generally provides special education services, supports, and accommodations to students in the general education setting. Izzy began school last year in a general education Kindergarten classroom with SPED support and services pushed in. It was an amazing year for her! She made friendships with her peers, grew academically, and loved going to school every day. There was one paraeducator in the classroom who supported two students experiencing disability.

This year, due to budget cuts, the school had to cut back on SPED support services, and Izzy entered a general education first grade classroom with one paraprofessional supporting three students. It is frightening to see what a difference that 3:1 ratio made: Izzy and her SPED peers were pulled out of their typical class for hours at a time because it was easier to group the SPED kids in a special education classroom — and they didn’t have enough paraeducators to adequately support the students in their general education classrooms. Friendships made with her typical peers last year were lost, and she only spoke about her SPED peers. Class time became less about education and more about classroom management. School began to be a glorified daycare for Izzy.

My daughter deserves a real education. School time should not be daycare where Izzy sits in the back of the room and colors. However, without an adequate budget, special education services cannot be as robust as they should be, and vulnerable students will not receive a free and appropriate education that they are entitled to under law.

To the other families of young children out there, I would encourage you to speak up and fight to protect the budgets for EI/ECSE services when your children are young and for the K-12 budgets for our schools so that they have the resources to create welcoming school communities that appreciate and embrace people with disabilities as valued members of their school communities.

screen shot of Sara Sampson and Heidi Robinson testifying in Hillsboro

Watch Heidi testify to the Hillsboro School Board, followed by Sara Sampson, FACT Oregon board member and fellow parent.