FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Gary Arnold, Access Living
(312) 253-7000 ext 1996
(312) 253-7002 (TTY)
Education Advocates Demand That Chicago Stop Special Education Budget Cuts
Staff reductions violate 1999 federal settlement agreement
CHICAGO (June 22, 2006) --A coalition of organizations that protect the right of students with disabilities sent a letter of complaint today that calls on the Court appointed monitor in the federal Corey H. class action lawsuit to stop proposed special education staffing cuts by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) contained in its Proposed Fiscal Year 2006-2007 budget.
If implemented, the cuts will eliminate 750 special education teacher aides and 200 special education teachers to generate a savings of $26 million. These reductions constitute nearly half of the school-based staff reductions in the proposed budget.
In the Corey H. lawsuit, Plaintiffs alleged that CPS was illegally segregating students with disabilities in separate schools and classrooms. In a detailed Settlement Agreement, CPS agreed to educate substantially more students with disabilities in the regular classroom, and to provide these students with needed staff supports so that they could master the academic skills that all students need to succeed in life.
"These huge budget cuts will undermine progress that has been made to successfully educate Chicago's children with disabilities in the regular classroom," said Donald Moore, Executive Director of Designs for Change, an organization which is part of the coalition that issued the complaint. "For example, teacher aides are vital so that students with disabilities have the support to learn beside their non-disabled peers, while allowing the regular classroom teacher to successfully teach the entire class."
In the letter of complaint addressed to the Court appointed monitor, Kathleen Yannias, the coalition requested that the monitor urgently conduct a school-by-school inquiry to determine how the proposed reductions were determined and what their impact would be.
"Our coalition wants students with disabilities to lead productive independent lives. At the eleventh grade level, only 5% of Chicago's children with disabilities are meeting state standards in reading," said Marca Bristo, President & CEO of Access Living. "How can the school system make budget cuts that will only make this terrible failure worse?"
In addition, the proposed cuts come after the Illinois State Board of Education found in three consecutive years leading up to 2006 that CPS failed to adequately staff schools and appropriately allocate staff to carry out its obligations under the Settlement Agreement.
"Chicago claimed that these staff shortages existed because they made aggressive efforts to fill special education positions, but were unable to do so. Now, they are making the situation even worse by firing the special education staff that they already have," said Charlotte Des Jardins, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center on Disabilities.
"As an organization that is dedicated to the inclusion of people with disabilities, Equip for Equality is deeply concerned that the proposed budget cuts will jeopardize the inclusion of children with disabilities in regular schools and classrooms," said Barry Taylor Legal Advocacy Director at Equip for Equality. "CPS should not try to balance its budget on the backs of students with disabilities."
Before allowing the proposed cuts to go forward, the coalition asks that the Corey H. Monitor:
- conduct an inquiry on the impact of the staffing reductions outlined in the budget and the procedures that were used to determine these reductions;
- ask that the CPS stop the proposed budget cuts until results of the inquiry are made public; and
- seek action from the federal judge in the Corey H. case if CPS declines to voluntarily delay the proposed budget cuts until the Monitor can analyze their impact.
The Coalition that filed the complaint consists of Access Living, Designs for Change, Equip for Equality and the Family Resource Center on Disabilities.
The Corey H. Case:In 1992, a class action lawsuit was brought by the parents of Chicago students with disabilities, charging that the Chicago Board of Education was illegally segregating students with disabilities and the Illinois State Board of Education had failed to carry out its legal obligation to ensure that this illegal segregation was ended. In 1998 and 1999, the two defendants entered into detailed Settlement Agreements negotiated with the plaintiffs to take steps to ensure that Chicago students with disabilities were educated in the "least restrictive environment" with adequate staff.
Access Living, Chicago's Center for Independent Living, is a cross-disability organization, nationally recognized as a leader in the field of independent living and a premier local provider of services for people with disabilities.
Designs for Change, a 28-year-old educational research and reform organization and a Parent Training and Information Center for families of students with disabilities.
Equip for Equality, is a private, not-for-profit entity designated in 1985 by the Governor to administer the federally mandated protection and advocacy system for safeguarding the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois.
Family Resource Center on Disabilities, was organized in 1969 by parents, professionals, and volunteers who sought to improve services for all children with disabilities and is a Parent Training and Information Center for families of students with disabilities.