The atmosphere at this morning’s House Appropriations Subcommittee meeting on the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) and the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) was somewhat subdued, perhaps owing to the fact that it began at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday.
However, between the breakfast taco banter the conversation did often turn serious, due to the gravity of the subject matter and proposed cuts to these institutions.
Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat and Chair of the Committee, made it clear early on that a full review of services and mission should be expected due to current budgetary constrictions that call for a 10 percent cut from both schools. “We’re not going to restore everything,” Hochberg said. “A significant number of people who voted in this state want government to do less. So it’s our job to ask questions about who you’re serving and who you’re not and where the priorities are.”
But as members of the public testified, it became clear how valuable these services are to the families who depend on them. Robbie Caldwell, mother of 9-year-old Gabrielle Caldwell, who is both deaf and blind, said, “each year my daughter is at TSD she makes advances previously thought unimaginable.”
Even if the Legislature musters the courage to whack schools for the blind and deaf, the state may be putting itself in jeopardy of big-time lawsuits.
Bill Daugherty, superintendent for the SBVI, told Senators on the finance committee last week that under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, special needs schools are required to enroll students who can’ t get adequate service from local school districts.
With both schools being asked to take 10 percent budget cuts, it would seem impossible to keep up with enrollment demand. Dvorah Ben-Moshe, President of Civication, an organization that promotes civic learning, said, “Services for the deaf are now experiencing an unprecedented increase in Texas at 12 percent. With increased enrollment, Texas School for the Deaf needs more funding not less.”
Currently TSD has about 550 students. Sustaining the proposed 10 percent cut would force them to slash enrollment to about 470, according to Claire Bugen, superintendent of TSD. Not only would this inhibit TSD from meeting its legal obligation of accepting students referred from local school districts, but it would also force them to cut personnel and reduce crucial services.
“If this 10 percent cut is maintained we’ll have to redefine our scope of services and mission,” said Bugen.