State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today strongly condemned Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto of $133 million for essential mental health services intended for students with severe disabilities.
“After underfunding public education by more than $21 billion over the last three budgets, it is unconscionable that the governor would take away this funding for critically needed mental health services to severely disabled students,” O’Connell stated. “School districts remain responsible for implementing the Individualized Education Program (IEP) plans for all students with disabilities. I question whether the Governors’ action to eliminate funding for this mandate is constitutional.”
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Among a series of cold-hearted and cruel line-item vetoes to the final 2010-11 Budget Act, the Governor eliminated funding for county mental health programs that are mandated under law per AB 3632, which was passed in 1984 and took effect in 1986.
His action is not only adding additional cost burdens on already underfunded districts, but more importantly, is causing great concern and uncertainly about the ability of districts to immediately provide necessary mental health services by appropriate providers. These services include psychiatric and medical management of necessary medications—services that school districts are simply not equipped to provide.
“While directing school districts to maintain their commitment to meet the requirements of all students’ IEP plans, we are working closely with legislative leadership to pursue a legal opinion on whether the Governor broke the law by eliminating funding to provide mental health services for severely disabled students. We are also exploring other steps to prevent cessation of services of mental health services for students by county mental health agencies,” O’Connell said.
A class-action lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of 20,000 special education students by mental health and disability rights advocates charging the governor with violating the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
“I welcome the Court’s review of the governor’s legal authority to cut these mandated funds,” O’Connell said.
The California Department of Education has issued a memo to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators, Special Education Local Plan Area directors, and special education administrators, reminding them of their responsibility to provide mental heal health services to students with disabilities as required by Government Code sections 7570 et. seq.
“All students in California deserves an education that gives them the opportunity to meet their full potential. Both federal law and common decency tell us that we cannot balance the state budget shortfall on the back of vulnerable students with disabilities,” O’Connell said.