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Medicaid Cuts Would Have a Negative Impact on Special Education Students

Medicaid helps schools pay for speech therapy, special education equipment, nursing aids and other needs for disabled students. It also reimburses schools for health and wellness care that is provided to students living in poverty. Last week’s health-care bill approved by the U.S. House to repeal much of the Affordable Care Act will likely target the Medicaid funding that helps schools to provide these services.

Millions of dollars are at stake for school districts across the country and the well-being and care of thousands of students provided by schools could be in jeopardy.

If approved by the Senate, federal Medicaid funding would be cut by $880 billion between now and 2026. A per-capita funding limit would be imposed on beneficiaries, putting the 30-year-old Medicaid School Program on the chopping block.

While much of the talk about the Medicaid cuts is directed at the lost or reduced health coverage for millions of adult Americans and their families, its impact on special education in schools has for the most part, remained more under the radar.

The nation's schools receive $4 to $5 billion annually in Medicaid, much of which is used for special education. Two thirds of this amount is used by school districts to pay for health professionals and specialized personnel for students with disabilities. Many schools also use Medicaid money to pay for student evaluations and equipment ranging from wheelchairs to feeding tubes.

School districts are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to provide "free and appropriate" public education to students with disabilities, but how they’ll do so with these Medicaid cuts is uncertain. The cost of providing special education students with an education is likely only going to go up because of a unanimous Supreme Court verdict in March that ruled special needs children “must be given an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress.”

“Because federal and state dollars only cover a portion, this drastic cut in federal funds would likely necessitate increases in local school levies, shifting the costs to local communities,” Brandi Slaughter, chief executive officer for Voices for Ohio’s Children told The Columbus Dispatch.

While supporters of the bill argue that the cuts are necessary to trim a bloated Medicaid system, opponents argue it would transfer the cost of educating special needs children to the state and force schools to compete for funds against hospitals and clinics that serve children who receive Medicaid.

In a letter sent to top lawmakers last week, a coalition of educators and advocacy groups made their case against the cuts, stating that it would “ration health care for children. A per-capita cap, even one that is based on different groups of beneficiaries, will disproportionately harm children’s access to care, including services received at school,” read part of the letter that has been backed by more than 50 organizations.

Since Medicaid funding began, the percentage of students with disabilities who have graduated from high school has increased from 41 percent in 1993 to 65 percent in 2013, according to the National School Boards Association.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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