When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blue-penciled $133 million in mental health services for special education students, he threw their lives into chaos and likely put California in violation of federal special education law.
The Governor’s action creates havoc on AB 3632 services, a 25-year-old program that assures emotionally disturbed youngsters receive the free and appropriate public education to which they are entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
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Through AB 3632, more than 20,000 special education students statewide receive education services through their local schools, mental health services through their county mental health departments, and residential services through their county child welfare agencies.
Our schools are already overburdened trying to provide for the complex educational needs of our students and are not equipped to provide for the complex mental health needs of students.
We know what happens when schools cannot serve our kids: too often kids fail in life. They end up jobless, homeless, incarcerated, or worse.
Over the years, the system has been successful in linking emotionally disturbed special education students with the mental health, education, and residential services they need to succeed.
Now, by cutting off the mental health services funding and attempting to lift the mandate, the Governor has pulled the rug out from under the children, their parents and the schools responsible for their education, and opened the state to countless needless lawsuits.
The fiscal impact of trying to deliver these services to our children is less critical than the impact of the loss of the services on the lives of our students and their families. But the fact is that the services will continue to be mandated by federal law and without state funding each of our districts’ budgets will be hit with hundreds of thousands of
dollars in new expenses to assure the continuation of therapy. Given the millions that have been cut from our budgets already, the shortened school year, employee furloughs, and slashed expenses for instructional support, we cannot afford this blow.
It’s time for the Legislature to restore the funding for AB 3632. The storm surrounding this decision has already started and it is emotionally disturbed children who are at risk of being washed away.
Jim Gibson, Superintendent, Castaic School District
Marc Winger, Ed.D., Superintendent, Newhall School District
Judy Fish, Ph.D., Superintendent, Saugus Union School District
Robert Challinor, Superintendent, William S. Hart Union High School District