Improving education for Hoosiers with disabilities

Posted by: Courtney Scott  | Thursday, May 21, 2015

It has been said time and again that the greatness of a nation can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. When we think about our most vulnerable members of society, children often come to mind. Here in Indiana, we dedicated over half of our state’s budget to K-12 education in an effort to ensure that each and every child receives the education they need to pursue their dreams.

Children with disabilities have special needs that deserve additional care and consideration. Although it did not garner a great deal of public attention, we took steps this session to address these needs and strengthen Indiana’s education system for Hoosiers with disabilities. 

As part of the school funding formula, in addition to the foundation amount that schools receive per student, they will also receive an additional dollar amount for each special needs student. Prior to this session, special education grant amounts had not changed for 15 years. In order to alleviate the financial burden on local schools and increase educational opportunities, we made a commitment to increase the per student severe disabilities grant to $8,800 and the moderate disabilities grant to $2,300.

We also passed legislation this session that requires aspiring teachers to be instructed in how to recognize dyslexia and other reading disorders in their students. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that may affect an individual’s ability to read, write, spell and pronounce words. One in five students struggles with this disorder, and they are just as capable and intelligent as their peers; they simply learn in a different way. If teachers are better able to recognize dyslexia at an early age, more students will reach their full potential and receive the quality education they deserve.

It is important that we not only focus on student success in the classroom, but also on how those classroom experiences will prepare them for life beyond high school. No two students will follow the same path; therefore, it is important that special needs students are presented with all of their educational options. Unfortunately, we have witnessed cases across Indiana where students with special education needs were advised away from a general education diploma track and encouraged to pursue a certificate of completion instead. Regardless of the reason, students and families deserve to know all of the diploma options and course offerings that are available.

Along these lines, we also passed legislation requiring the Indiana Career Council’s Core 40 subcommittee to recommend changes that will allow all students to have access to a diploma that accurately represents their abilities. These students have valuable skills which translate well to the workforce, but not having a diploma often prevents them from being considered for employment.

Ultimately, these laws are about increasing opportunities for student success. Being born with a disability does not have to limit ones potential, and it is important that our education system recognizes that. With hard work, determination and the proper learning environment, I truly believe that anything is possible for all Hoosier children. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to support these laws, and I look forward to the benefit they will have for students and families in our community.