I've been struck by the number of parents of special needs students and special education educators I have spoken to over the past week while knocking on doors. District 65 has embraced inclusion since before I was elected to the school board. In fact, my concerns about our proper resourcing of the implementation of this program were one of the reasons I ran for my first term in 2013. We have come a long way since then, but I admit we are not perfect. Across District 17, I hear the concerns of parents who want the best for their children and feel they have to fight hard, perhaps too hard, to get what their kids deserve.
I believe our school districts want to provide these services, yet we are being handcuffed by the late and sometimes non-existent adequate funding from the state. I recall the first time I learned that state reimbursements for PUBLIC special education schools, like the amazing Park School we have in Evanston, are reimbursed at less than what the state provides to private special education programs. What kind of sense does that make? None. We should not punish our communities for providing local, excellent, supportive educational environments for all of our children.
Beyond special education, I have been talking a lot with voters about the fact that our schools are now the largest mental health service provider to children in the state. However, schools receive absolutely no funding or technical support to provide the social-emotional supports we all know are necessary to enable children to reach their full educational potential. In Springfield, I will fight for adequate funding and program supports for us to meet the needs of the whole child.
We must acknowledge that our schools are a microcosm of our communities. Just as the needs of our communities are complex, so are the needs of our students. We need expertise, training, and best practices from the state, while what we get are unpaid bills and unfunded mandates. This must change and I hope to be a major part of that change.
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