KUT / NPR Radio Austin’s NPR Station
Advocates Ask Lawmakers to ‘Step Up’ and Fund Programs for Children with Special Needs
By ASHLEY LOPEZ • SEP 15, 2016
State lawmakers are discussing today what to do about a plan to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates for groups that provide therapy to young children with developmental issues.
Earlier this summer, the Texas Supreme Court halted a $350 million cut to early childhood intervention (ECI) programs right before they were supposed to go into effect. But it’s only temporary. That’s why the Texas Senate Finance committee will discuss what to do next.
“We are continuing to squeeze some of the families that have the greatest needs…”
With recent news, though, the state has also been limiting access to special education programs, advocates say the state should reconsider those cuts now more than ever.
The warning from advocates and providers has been similar for a while now. They say cutting costs for therapies early in a baby’s life isn’t’ really going to save the state money down road.
“What you are actually doing is cutting programs that have the best chance at a lifelong impact for that child and family and you are just kicking the ball down the road and those interventions that happen later in life we know are less effective,” says Andy Miller with Any Baby Can.
Miller’s group provides therapies to young children with developmental issues. He says when when small children don’t have access to early childhood intervention programs – their issues are then dealt with in school through special ed programs.
At that point, Miller says, intervention is difficult and has less likelihood of success.
To make matters more complicated, according to an investigation from The Houston Chronicle released this week, access to special ed programs has also been greatly been greatly restricted in the past decade.
“We are continuing to squeeze some of the families that have the greatest needs for ensuring their children develop to their maximum capabilities, so that they can have a successful life,” Miller says. “We are seeing those resources continuing to shrink and those families to experience the squeeze.”
And advocates argue ECI programs have already been squeezed.
Stephanie Rubin with Texans Care for Children says the state changed eligibility standards a few years ago, which limited access to programs for many young children. She says spending even less on the program now would be devastating.
“The ECI program is effective for the kids who receive but it’s very clear from our analysis that there are too many kids who are not able to access these services and its probably contributing to some special ed costs down the road,” Rubin says.
If lawmakers are serious about cutting costs for special ed, Rubin argues shoring up the state’s ECI program would be a better move. She says it would also improve the lives of children, parents and even educators across the state.
“The legislature very clearly can step up this next session and make some policy changes that ensure that kids with special needs at the earliest age and throughout school get the support they need,” she says.