It shouldn't surprise anyone that when the economy stumbles, it hurts children at least as much as it hurts adults. Still, it was something of a shocker when The Annie E. Casey Foundation came out with its latest Kids Count Data Book survey this summer, assessing the general well-being of children by weighing such factors as their safety, education, and health. Only last year, the foundation ranked California 16th in the nation. This year, however, after the foundation considered some additional education factors, we dropped to 41st. Moreover, only 25 percent of our fourth graders are proficient in reading - the same share as eighth graders proficient in math, according to the report.
Needless to say, these numbers do not bode well for California's children. And they serve as a grim backdrop for the story Lisa Davis
wrote for us this month on the legal battles fought over the educational needs of kids with learning disabilities ("Special Needs, Hard Times").
Under federal law, school districts must provide a "free and appropriate" public education to these children, regardless of the cost. However, that doesn't mean that parents always get their way when they lobby for their children. After all, even in special ed there is a distinction to be made between needs and wants.
For her story, Davis talked to a number of lawyers who specialize in resolving the disputes that erupt between the parents of special needs children and school administrators. "It's an extraordinarily emotional, highly regulated, and extremely complicated area of the law," she reports. But no matter how effective these advocates are, their victories hardly solve the bigger problem.
"There's no question that budget cuts are pouring gasoline on an already challenging situation," Davis says. "School districts are struggling to make it. And that not only pits parents against school administrators, but it can also pit parents against each other."
Of course, in the final analysis, education is an investment as well as a cost. And certainly as a state we'll come out ahead if we're willing to spend what it takes to help disabled children become functional adults, rather than warehousing them at the margins of society.
Also this month, our Legally Speaking column features San Francisco attorney Eric Berkowitz,
who has written a provocative book on the history of judging and disciplining sexual behavior ("Sex and Punishment").
And speaking of Legally Speaking, this summer our series of videotaped interviews reached a milestone when it drew its millionth online viewing. To see what all the excitement is about, go to our Legally Speaking page here
, and earn MCLE credit while you watch.