JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Though no parents have been allowed to testify at a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Federal Education Funding, Sean and Jessica Fox have been paying close attention to what’s said in Nashville.
Their daughter Claire, a third grader at Ridgeview Elementary, is one of Tennessee’s nearly 130,000 thousand students who receive special education services through the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
IDEA is one of the primary channels through which the state receives federal education funding, with about one-quarter of the state’s total federal education funding funneled toward special education.
The Foxes have seen the value of the money firsthand. When Claire first began pre-kindergarten, she couldn’t walk without the aid of a walker.
“Now she runs up and down the halls,” Sean Fox told News Channel 11. “She is able to eat lunch with her peers and do normal classroom activity things, and that’s all through everything that she receives in special education.”
While lawmakers consider whether or not the state could adequately fund and administer the programs that Claire accesses every day at school, the Foxes watch with anxiety.
“I hear them use the terminology strings a lot,” Jessica Fox said. “To me, it’s not about strings. It’s about Claire’s, her civil rights, her ability to go to school.”
Though state lawmakers claim to have the money to replace federal education funding, at least for now, the Foxes said they’re worried that the state would decrease transparency and accountability in special education.
At the time of reporting, IDEA requires schools to create an Individual Educational Program (IEP) for each special education student and ensure parents are up-to-date on how the child is progressing toward the goals set out in the IEP.
“If the state were to take over that, I have no way of knowing that they would continue to allow us to be part of the conversation to know what’s best for Claire,” Jessica Fox said.
As far as the hearings go, parents won’t be a part of the conversation.
News Channel 11 asked working group co-chair State Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) whether parents would be allowed to testify at future meetings.
“Hearing about the value of the programs is kind of moot,” Lundberg said, citing the fact that the working group is investigating how to best fund education, rather than considering cutting any programs.
Even so, the Foxes said when it comes to their daughter’s education, money shouldn’t be the primary issue.
“Looking at it more as a person rather than a dollar sign, and where that dollar sign coming from is really not protecting Claire and all her 126,000 other friends out there, their rights and their futures,” Sean Fox said.
While Lundberg said future hearings are likely, no further meetings have been scheduled.