Op-Ed: Lack of Consideration for Special Needs Grads in County Budget Is Disturbing

by RestonNow.com February 17, 2017 at 11:30 am 35 Comments

Fairfax County logoThis is an op/ed submitted by Mary Nell Clark, a Reston resident and a South Lakes High School mother. It does not reflect the opinions of Reston Now.

The Fairfax County Executive’s new budget removes funding for youth with intellectual disabilities leaving Fairfax County Public Schools in 2017.

The people of Fairfax County are not that uncaring. You are not that selfish. I know because I have seen how amazing you are. But the County’s budget introduced Tuesday cut all funding for the youth with intellectual disabilities who will be leaving the school system this year.

The state has a program called the Medicaid Waiver, which provides support to Virginia individuals with developmental disabilities, enabling them to live and thrive in our community. But there are over 11,000 Virginians on the wait list for those services. My daughter, Beth, who has Down syndrome, has been on that wait list for years.

Because Fairfax County is a caring community, for years and years the Board has chosen to provide some support to those waiting for the waiver so that they can continue to be active after leaving FCPS. Each year, a new group of students graduates, and the county has realized that FCPS has invested and believed in them and we shouldn’t now abandon them to the sofa. The County has provided some support so these young people can continue to stay active, safe and, hopefully, find employment in the community.

This year, my daughter Beth leaves FCPS. Tuesday, we were heartsick to be told the County Executive did not think she or her graduating classmates were important enough to make the budget. But I know this is not true of our community.

Beth was born here and has always lived here. She was included in Terraset Elementary, Langston Hughes Middle, and South Lakes High School — with the support of amazing teachers and classmates. She was in a Reston Girl Scout Troop for over 10 years, earning her Gold Award — with the support of leaders and community members. She was on the SLHS Swim Team for four years and the Glade Gators for 13 through the support of cheering coaches, parents and friends. She was a part of a wonderfully inclusive SLHS Choral Program with Ms. G, and Dance Program with Ms. Girdy. She was “Defying Gravity” as she danced at Broadway Night. She was twice SLHS Homecoming Princess.

All along the way, the Reston community has supported her. She could have done none of it alone.

So I know that Fairfax County is a caring community. Can you please let the County Executive Ed Long (703-324-2531) know that we are? More importantly, please let the Board of Supervisors know that the budget must include support for these young adults as it has in the past.

Beth has spoken to Supervisor Cathy Hudgins. We know that she cares. Let her and the other supervisors know that we value these young people with intellectual disabilities and will support them.

Mary Nell Clark

  • Willie Reston

    “I find your lack of consideration for special needs grads in the county budget disturbing.”

    -Darth Vader

  • TheRealODB
    • ah


  • Greg

    This is one of many reasons why Mrs. DeVoss is now our Secretary of Education. Hopefully you will soon be able to take your education tax dollars and give them to the schools of your choosing.

    • ah

      But then I would worry about schools that have more low income students getting neglected.

      • Greg

        No worries (as is worrying ever solved anything ever). Those schools should be closed. Public or private.

        The low-income students will benefit most from vouchers, and the overpaid teachers will sink or swim on their own.

        • ah

          Overpaid, meaning the teachers that slack?

          • Greg

            All of them.

          • Willie Reston

            “Teachers are overpaid”, said no intelligent person ever.

    • Guest

      DeVoss is a bad apple and her plans are both harmful to society and wasteful of our tax dollars. But, seeing that was the intent of her nomination from the beginning, I suppose she’s working as intended.

      DeVoss, a billionaire investor, seeks to replace public education with for-profit schools owing their duty not to students and the public but to shareholders. She seeks a cash cow, not an educated populace.

      Charter schools are a bad alternative to government-provided public education except where circumstances demand their use. Traveling families, issues of transportation, and social conflict are all legitimate times for distance learning.

      Charters have low to middling performance except where they are able to tailor their acceptance of students to tilt the field in their favor.

      Charters exclude students who most need the help of experienced teachers, refuse state audits, and consume state funds outsize to their benefit.

      • Scott

        Well, since Democrats, beholden to teacher unions, fight against charter schools and condemn inner-city, minority children to failing public schools and a poor education, I guess that makes you a racist.
        Why are democrats and teachers racist?

        • Guest

          Charter schools already have poor performance even while handling a small fraction of students, and many even with funding outsize to their location. They cannot handle the greater part of students, let alone all of them, and shifting the system would truly condemn inner-city, minority children to a staggeringly underwhelming education.

          Why do you hate and want to destroy the public school system instead of improve it?

          • Scott

            If charter schools are failing, why are inner city families doing ANYTHING possible to get their kids into charter schools and out of failing public schools? By your logic, they must hate their kids. Hmmm.

          • Guest

            Counterpoint, they’re becoming the only option in some areas and they suffer the same problems as public options. Except charters pay their teachers comparatively little and deliver profits to a tiny fraction of their executive management.

          • Scott

            You didn’t answer the question. Why are poor inner city families fighting to get their kids into charters. If they are the “only” option, that means public schools are an unmitigated disaster.

          • Guest

            It was answered, but links are hard. I’ll sum up.

            When a charter school is much better funded than local public schools because it’s “experimental”, like the Harlem Children’s Zone charter featured in Waiting for Superman, of course families apply.

            When the population of a charter school is not representative of a largely minority population area, like Trillium in Portland, then that also speaks to motivation.

            When public schools do poorly in an area where charter companies have gradually wrestled funding away from the public school system, as in the New York Times article about Detroit, the answer is equally blatant.

            “Schools of your choosing” are a good idea for families and society when they’re handling exceptions. Not when they’re the rule.

          • Scott

            The exception IS the rule. If we agree that publicly funded education is a good thing, the only way to address is to let parents choose the school their kids attend with a voucher program. Good schools will get more students and funding. Failing schools will improve or close. To sentence low income kids to a poor education and likely life of poverty b/c of where they live is horribly mean and, using the logic of disparate impact, racist to boot.

          • Guest

            In the face of reality you’ve retreated to your initial troll, so I guess we’re done.

  • Confused

    My cousin, severely handicapped, went to a normal school and had average grades. She was treated normally like everyone else and went onto university also. There were no special handicapped programs, in fact she never considered herself a handicapped nor was treated like one. This is even true today.

    In the off chance to be called insensitive, but the mother here is asking for all kinds of support and fiscal programs, yet her daughter is a starlet in just about every category stated – so life is grand, is it not?

    • Greg

      Yes, and that’s the problem in Fairfax County. Everyone wants the government to do just about everything for them, but no one wants to pay for it — or, likely more accurately, wants someone else to pay for it.

  • David

    So Ms. Clark, tell us what program you would cut in order to fund the program for your daughter.

  • Scott

    Ms Clark,
    It would be helpful to understand what type of support will no longer be provided and how much money we are talking about. As a conservative, I want small govt b/c govt rarely works as promised, but I also believe in helping those that cannot help themselves. But there must be limits. What services and/or programs do you believe that your neighbors should be forced to fund for adult residents like your daughter?
    What item(s) in the budget should it take precedence over? The county spends over $4B a year. There is plenty of bloat and waste…of course, all of those programs are essential to someone and they would say it’s “selfish” to cut them.

    Final thought:
    If it is “selfish” to want to keep the money one earns, is it also selfish to demand the money others have earned? Careful about labels you casually throw around.

    • Guest

      Ah. So you’re the legendary fiscal conservative who gains no benefit from government services funded by our collective taxes. Nice to meet you!

      • Scott

        Huh? You are lazy and can’t win a debate so you attempt to attack me personally. Nice try anonymous internet warrior!

        • Guest

          I’m sorry, I totally assumed from your advocacy of small government that you are able to do without public services. So is it safe to say that you do benefit from government spending? And you possibly even debate that programs which benefit you personally should take precedence?

          Meanwhile, the writer debates on behalf of her daughter.

          Which of you is selfish?

          • Scott

            Some of us are able to debate policy of what govt, funded by taxpayers, SHOULD do, what is effective, and what is right, regardless of what “benefits” one personally.

            But let me ask the question again. Money allocated to a govt program comes from your fellow taxpayers and neighbors. For any govt program someone advocates for, ask yourself: How much of their income should your neighbors be forced to pay under the force of law, before they can take what remains to start housing/feeding/clothing their own family?

            Also consider, if govt ceased all the pet programs, how much money would be returned to taxpayers so that they wouldn’t need govt assistance.

          • Guest

            Why do you insist on suggesting that social welfare programs — implemented either for economic or compassionate reasons — are neither “effective” nor “right”?

            For that matter, what do you consider “pet programs”?

            Some of us are able to discard the vast egotism of assuming that any government program that doesn’t benefit us personally, or that we don’t understand, is wasteful.

          • Scott

            What program one person considers essential is considered a “special interest” by someone else. That is not about me. This is about what govt SHOULD do. Some things govt does is good. A lot Govt does, it wasteful and ineffective. When spending other people’s money, it’s legitimate to ask the question of whether it is money well spent, regardless of how heartbreaking the group/person/thing the program purports to help.

            And you still refuse to answer the question. How much of your and your neighbor’s money should be taken by force to pay for the care of other people before they can take what’s left to begin to care for their own familial responsibilities?

          • Guest

            By earning a living here you owe taxes like anyone else. As your children grow they’ll benefit from the system as do we all. I suggest you detail how much you think should be “taken by force” instead. You are advocating smaller government. To get there, where do we cut? What pet programs should be eliminated?

            The legitimacy and effectiveness of the existing programs is shown in Edward’s responses to this article. Both public programs and private efforts benefited his niece to give her a productive and healthy life.

            You’ve internalized the article writer calling the people of Fairfax County “not that selfish” very personally, and should probably spend some time examining why.

  • Edward Calvert

    This particular program has social merit though you might not realize it unless you actually have a family member in them. My niece has overcome severe autism thanks to special ed programs and montessori schools. She will now be a fully functional adult and live a normal and productive life (ie pay taxes). Someone I know has downs and works in a similar program, like the arc. These programs actually succeed in getting them jobs and making them able to live independent lives.

    I don’t know what the actual budget numbers are but at some point aren’t we splitting hairs ? According to the author there’s a 11,000 waiting list. The alternative, as she said, is to consign them to the couch. Eventually they’ll just draw a lot of social services and ssi, so is there net neutrality? I don’t know.

    • Scott

      Your post makes the same error as the author. How much money are we talking about and what are the programs at risk? The county spends an absurd $4B a year – more than $3000 for EVERY, adult, child, tax-payer, and recipient. If this program is essential, surely there is room in the budget. What should be cut instead?

      And the ultimate question still remains. (And this is not an advocation for a specific position on this program) – Despite the success for your niece that you attribute to county programs, how much of those programs should be the responsibility of other people who have no connection to your niece?
      It’s a legitimate question to consider when we are talking about this and every other program in an excessive, bloated government. How much should taxpayers be forced to pay at gunpoint to feed/clothe/care for other people, before they can begin to provide the necessities for their own families. Govt acts as if the money people earn is theirs, and govt decides how much of their money they let citizens keep. That is wrong.

      • Edward Calvert

        I guess you didn’t understand my question or I didn’t articulate. I don’t know what the budget numbers are. But you ask it yourself . “How much are taxpayers be forced to pay at gunpoint …for other people ” taxpayers are going to pay one way or the other. They can pay for special ed or they pay for ssi. Or both. What’s the difference between the two to the individual taxpayer ? Pick the best way for the taxpayer. Ssi certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

        I don’t know the answer but for my niece she was in a special ed program for a year. Yippee. My brother pays for her montessori schooling. One year of special ed ? Or 998 a month social security for life?

        You should be happy ! The program has been cut according to the op ed. But reality is the government does own our tax dollars. It uses them for whatever reason they feel like they want. Special ed, the military, police, the silver line, etc. I rarely get to decide where they go. I’d have to run for office to challenge it or I guess lobby my elected officials who would probably laugh. My brother and his wife are hard working taxpayers. Sorry for your loss if they used a year of special education. A program already there and not created for them . They ve easily repaid it ten times over with our progressive tax schedule.

        • Scott

          My post is academic about policy and role of govt. It is not personal. But since you brought it up. Montessori school isn’t cheap and you infer your brother does quite well. So, should FFX county residents of lesser means be forced at gunpoint to subsidize your brother’s income to provide for his child? Maybe the answer is yes.
          That’s the beauty of a country that’s supposed to defer such items to states and localities. Each can decide how they wish to live and people can choose to reside in a place that suits their tastes.

          But back to FFX….Money is not unlimited. At some point we run out. It is legitimate to debate these topics and decide what we, as county residents, want from our local govt. That said, we have still gotten no specifics on the topic to have an honest analysis and discussion on the topic…Just a lot of subjective opinions. If this program cost $10, everyone would be in support. If it cost a $billion, I suspect even you would say it was not worth it despite your niece’s perceived success(which may have mostly come from a $15k+ annual private school). Until we have specifics- cost, number of people helped, review of actual benefit realized, we cannot have an effective debate.
          On the flip side FFX county has become a very liberal and free spending county. For Cathy Hudgins and the BOG to cut spending for special needs individuals, it would take a lot. Perhaps data shows the program wasn’t a very good use of tax dollars or that there are better ways to achieve its goals. IDK. UDK either. To discuss whether this program is worthwhile is frankly worthless w/o the details.
          All that said, glad your niece is doing well. I have an autistic nephew who is struggling.

          • Edward Calvert

            I admit that I’m ignorant. Does the county provide these numbers ? Do they even do such a thorough budget analysis ? Are they online ? Do they pdf the county budget and send it out?

          • Scott

            IDK either. The budget is posted, but I’ve never waded through it. That said, it is not my job. The point is that the author called people selfish, but provided no details of the program, it’s impacts, or why the Democratic BOS cut the program for “the most vulnerable among us”. If the author wants to garner support for her position, she should support it with facts and details. Alas, she did not. She called people selfish and asked us to call the county to complain about something we have no details on.


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