The recommendations in Access Living's FY 2013 CPS Budget Analysis include a call for CPS to restore funding to the ADA Capital Improvement Budget and to restore cuts made to programs for students with Autism. The FY 2013 budget includes $500,000 for ADA Capital Improvement Projects. The projects are designed to increase accessibility at CPS Schools. This funding is a significant drop. Between 2008 and 2012, CPS dedicated a minimum of $20,000,000 each year to ADA Capital Improvement Projects. The investment led to positive results. Between 2006 and 2011, more than 80 previously inaccessible schools were made accessible, bringing the total number of accessible public schools to 260. In the report, Access Living urges CPS to continue to invest in creating environments that are inclusive of students with disabilities. The report states, “We believe, even in fiscally difficult times this program should continue, (p. 23).”
In addition to cuts to the ADA Capital Improvement Program, the budget makes overall cuts to special education, and specific cuts to positions within Autism programs. These cuts come at a time when overall trends suggest the Autism population is increasing. The report states, “What we see in these position cuts are targeted percentage reductions that appear to have been ordered administratively with possibly limited consideration of the needs of students with autism, (p. 15).”
Other recommendations cover maintaining a reserve fund, tapping new funding sources within Tax Increment Finance accounts, and developing “Universal Design for Living (UDL)” classrooms. UDL classrooms would create a shift in approaching special education, from a separate service for students with disabilities to an integral and natural part of the educational process for all students. UDL classrooms would create a more inclusive environment for students with disabilities while also cutting costs because they would “mean fewer teachers in the workforce and teachers who would be required to multitask in regular classrooms, (p. 31).”
Throughout Chicago communities, a great deal of attention has been given within the past year to the length of the school day. Beyond the recommendations, the Access Living report looks at what impact a longer school day may have on students with disabilities. The report notes that based on cuts to training and support programs “CPS almost assures that any positive impact a longer instructional day might have on very hard to teach students will be limited, (p. 22).” The longer school day could particularly impact students diagnosed with Attention–deficit hyperactivity disability. Already, “current data indicates that many of these disabled CPS students are repeatedly suspended from school, (p. 21).” Fewer supports and a longer school would exacerbate the problem.
Other areas of concern included the budgeting process employed by CPS. The budget was developed with no meetings of the CPS Finance and Audit Committee and the process included an interactive budget game in which anyone could propose cuts to 16 different budget factors. “As a disability rights organization we were shocked to discover that CPS had created a balance the budget game where citizens could cut or increase any of 16 different factors of which the second most expensive was special education, (p. 5).”
Overall, Access Living does not support the CPS Budget. In order to improve conditions for students with disabilities, Access Living believes that “the school district, the union, and the special education advocacy community need to come together to create a sustainable special education system in Chicago that effectively educates students with disabilities and prepares them as best as possible for life after school, (p. 31).”
Access Living's CPS FY 2013 Budget Analysis is available online at www.accessliving.org. Click on the “more information” link for an electronic version of the full report. Established in 1980, Access Living is a non–profit, Chicago–based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer–based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers.