Special Education in Michigan Still a Struggle for Families

POST BY Giancarlo Guzman Education Outreach & Policy Advocate
November 13, 2015

"Islands of excellence in a sea of despair," that’s how former superintendent of Michigan Public Instruction, Thomas D. Watkins Jr., described special education in Michigan during a recent listening session.  

My wife is pregnant with our second child, and I am anxious at the thought of my newborn needing special education. Special education in Michigan would mean a lifetime of barriers for my family as we struggle to give our child a quality education in an inept Michigan system.

With all the turmoil in Michigan's education system today, the most overlooked and displaced children are the ones that need the most help. Too often, these are children who need special education. But their needs go unmet due to the inadequate resources available to educate these children.

During the listening session with Watkins, conducted with Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at the Redford Public Library, families of children with special needs pleaded for relief. They cited numerous examples of schools with arbitrary rules, subjective policies, and no accountability for teaching special-education students.

Special education in Michigan is an issue that not only crosses party lines but also crosses race and socioeconomic lines.  In the U.S., there are 6.5 million kids between the ages of 3-21 that are diagnosed with special needs. That’s more than 10% of all U.S. households. Some families are fortunate enough to be able to pay the additional costs in supplemental supports over their childs lifetime. An example is the $1.4 million price tag it costs for a family to raise a child with autism during their lifetime.

If you are reading this and feeling thankful you don't have to worry about these issues, then consider yourself one of the lucky people on Watkins' "islands of excellence." But the sea of despair is real for thousands of families in Michigan. And as we continue to push for education reform in Michigan, let us not forget the sea that surrounds us.

I am anxious at the thought of my newborn needing special education