Embracing the Ambiguity in Special Education Law

by Josette Barsano

Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to risk factors that hinder functional development and thus have a heightened need for special education services.[1] As a special education teacher in a low-income school district, one of the greatest challenges I faced was navigating the gray areas that govern the right of every student to receive, as the law stipulates, the “appropriate” educational and related services that are essential for them to progress academically.[2]  In my experience, the ambiguity surrounding what “appropriate” really means and how it should apply to each unique student was the source of heated debate. After sharing my concern of this opaqueness in the law with my Assistant Principal, she surprisingly advised that instead of bemoaning the lack of concrete definitions and processes, I should embrace the ambiguity. In her wisdom, she explained that there is much opportunity to effectuate meaningful change in the veil of vagueness. In contrast, stringent guidelines can lead to cookie-cutter outcomes that may not always serve the best interests of individual students with special needs. Time and again this approach led me to find consensus in situations where I thought it might not be possible, and it was instrumental in my success in collaborating with parents, teachers and administrators.

Continue reading

It’s Time to Go Back to the Drawing Board for Public School Funding

by David Brunfeld

When Mark Twain was growing up, the residents living around the Mississippi River created a proposition to discontinue funding for public schools because of how expensive public schools were.[1] An old farmer asserted, in opposition, that “[i]f they stopped building the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”[2]

There is a fair amount of veracity in the old farmer’s words; it should come as no surprise that when education quality suffers, higher incarceration rates follow thereafter.[3] Roughly two thirds of all inmates across the country did not graduate high school.[4] These staggering numbers can largely be attributed to the difficulty in acquiring a job without a high school diploma, and without a job or any source of income, unemployment and incarceration cement a relationship.[5] To prevent this, we must continue to fund our public schools to ensure that youths of all backgrounds receive the best education we can afford to give them. Unfortunately, because of the system by which public schools are funded, this is not the case.[6] In reality, those living in lower income areas suffer with respect to their public schools’ funding.[7]

Continue reading

Why the Congress Must Amend the Indian Child Welfare Act

by Dylan Byrd

The Supreme Court’s decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl dismantled vital protections for Native American children by unfairly limiting important federal statutes.[1]

In the 1970s, the federal government was in the process of removing one out of every three Native American children from their tribes and placing them in mainstream American institutions, foster homes, or adoptive homes.[2] To the average American child, the 1970s were enigmatic of the first Hollywood blockbuster or the grand opening of Walt Disney World. To the Sovereign Nation, this particular decade threatened to cripple its millennial generation, vis-à-vis state agencies’ removal of almost 40 percent of young Native children from their families.[3] This trend illustrates the government’s systematic denial of opportunities for Native American children to participate in their historic cultures, ideals, and experiences.

Continue reading

Defend the Affordable Care Act, Lather, Rinse, Repeat

by Deborah Steinberg

20431531_4138475620374_6561215065561396283_n

Photo by Deborah Steinberg

The Senate Gallery was packed for 1:00 a.m. on a bleak Thursday night, or more accurately Friday morning. It was a relief just to sit down, after we had been rallying outside the Capitol for six hours. Of course, these six hours were piled on top of night after night, week after week, of standing with disability rights groups, reproductive rights organizations, people fighting for transgender equality, and thousands of other individuals fighting to keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the current structure of Medicaid in place.[1] No one believed the 2010 law was perfect, but the ACA was the first successful effort to regulate the health insurance market and ensure that low- and middle-income families as well as people with pre-existing conditions could access affordable and comprehensive care.[2] So we had fought, seemingly nonstop, for months to prevent these consumer protections from being repealed, as the Republican Party had been promising to do for the seven years since Obamacare was signed into law. It had been a long summer.

Continue reading

Examining the Negative Impacts of Gentrification

by Emily Chong

Change to cities, neighborhoods, and communities is inevitable—however, with the latest tide of change, many communities are experiencing gentrification. Gentrification occurs when “communities experience an influx of capital and concomitant goods and services in locales where those resources were previously non-existent or denied.”[1] Usually, gentrification occurs when more affluent people move to or become interested in historically less affluent neighborhoods. Gentrification is a phenomenon subject to much debate—some believe that its effects are purely positive, while others argue that gentrification brings about harmful consequences. I argue the latter and examine the problems that gentrification causes.

Some argue that gentrification is beneficial since the gentrification process creates more development, rapid economic investment, and support of projects related to consumption and entertainment.[2] The incoming population of more affluent residents and people of privilege is directly connected to an increase in resource allocation to schools, stores, and other development. While these effects can be beneficial, the gentrification process becomes detrimental when it forces original residents to leave the neighborhood through exponentially increasing property prices, coercion, or buyouts. If there is no widespread displacement, and the shifts in the neighborhood are carefully planned through with community input and involvement, gentrification can be a good thing for the community, increasing “socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic integration.”[3] However, this is rarely ever the case.

Gentrification usually leads to negative impacts such as forced displacement, a fostering of discriminatory behavior by people in power, and a focus on spaces that exclude low-income individuals and people of color.

Continue reading

Why the Current Structure of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Should be Maintained

Staff Editor Madeline Curtis reflects on the importance of preserving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. GJPLP has more on the changing nature of SNAP in Sarah Carrier’s recent Note, From Paper to Electronic: Food Stamps, Social Security, and the Changing Functionality of Government Benefits, which can be found on WestLaw and Lexis.

by Madeline Curtis

Per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12.7% (15.8 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2015.[1]  Fortunately, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program distributes around $70 billion in benefits to approximately 45 million recipients each year,[2] helping to curb the prevalence of food insecurity and poverty in our country.  In fact, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP lifts millions of households out of poverty, keeping 10.3 million people (including 4.9 million children) out of poverty in 2012.[3]  A White House report on the long-term benefits of SNAP found recent research showing that participation in the program leads to “significant improvements in the health and well-being of low-income families.”  Additionally, children who receive food assistance show improvements in health, education, and economic status.[4]  Further, SNAP has one of the lowest error rates of any public benefit program and a strong record of accuracy in payment.[5]

Continue reading

States Can Help Protect Immigrant Workers from Exploitation

by Mackenzie Yee

All workers, no matter where they were born, should be able to work under fair and safe conditions. No worker should be subject to exploitation, and there has been legislation at both the federal and state levels protecting workers’ rights, regardless of their immigration status.[1] Still, low-income immigrant workers, and particularly those who are undocumented, are especially at risk of being exploited in the workplace.[2]

Employers are able to exploit immigrant workers by threatening to report their immigration status if they complain about workplace abuses.[3] As a result, a handful of states have adopted laws prohibiting this type of extortion. The most recent such law was passed in May 2016, when Maryland became only the fourth state to pass a bill amending its extortion law to include threatening to report someone’s immigration status as criminal extortion if such threat is used to obtain something of value.[4] This law follows similar ones passed in Virginia and Colorado in 2006, and in California in 2013.[5]

Continue reading

Public Education: A Social Good and A Stepping Stone

by Gabrielle Rejouis

In light of the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, experts and proponents for public education raise concerns about the future of state-funded education in America.[1] While I attended private school from preschool through 12th grade, my experiences as a first-generation American has influenced my understanding of the importance and need for free public education. Free public education was not an option when my parents grew up in Haiti. They both attended private school. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother immigrated to America to work and would send money back to Haiti to pay for the cost of my parents’ tuition and uniforms. Both sets of my grandparents valued education. When my parents immigrated to the United States and joined their parents in New Jersey as teenagers, they completed their high school education at public school before earning their bachelors and master degrees. Public education provided a bridge for my parents to navigate the new culture and new surroundings. It also allowed my parents to establish a strong foundation in America and lift their family out of poverty.

Continue reading

Protecting Access to Affordable Housing in Texas

by Rob Van Someren Greve

Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers allow beneficiaries to rent a property of their choice from private owners by having federal funds cover most of their rent. They provide access to affordable housing to over two million very low-income households in the United States.[1] Given the steady decline of other federal affordable housing programs, the Voucher program is of vital importance to the goal of “aiding low-income families in obtaining a decent place to live.”[2] For the program to be successful, private landlords must be willing to rent their properties to beneficiaries. Unfortunately, many landlords—especially those whose properties are not located in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor households—refuse to participate in the program.[3] To combat this unwillingness and help ensure that Voucher recipients are able to find a “decent place to live,” numerous jurisdictions across the country have passed laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of their source of income.[4]

Unsurprisingly, landlords who had been unwilling to rent to Voucher holders prior to the adoption of laws prohibiting source-of-income discrimination have generally not simply acquiesced after these laws were passed. Landlords in various jurisdictions have challenged these laws in court, arguing as follows: while participation in the Housing Choice Voucher program is voluntary, prohibiting source-of-income discrimination de facto forces them to participate; therefore, such laws are in conflict with, and thus preempted by, the federal statute.[5] Courts have, for the most part, not been particularly receptive to this line of argument.[6] Again unsurprisingly, landlords seeking to preserve the ability to reject otherwise eligible tenants seeking to pay with vouchers have focused their efforts elsewhere.

Continue reading

Would a Federal Voucher Program Help or Harm Disadvantaged Students?

by Melissa Kahn

Image Available Here

President Trump’s unconventional selection and the Senate’s subsequent controversial confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has been the subject of considerable debate, and much uncertainty remains as to how much damage she could do to the nation’s public education system. However, we do know that she is an enthusiastic proponent of school vouchers and charter schools. We also know that President Trump has proposed a federally funded voucher program which would redirect $20 billion from existing federal spending toward a block grant program for states to administer school vouchers.[1] Under these programs, parents of students living below the federal poverty level would be able to use a voucher to send their kids to a private or religiously-affiliated school of their choice. Clearly, voucher programs are targeted at economically disadvantaged students, and public opinion surveys show that minority and low-income parents tend to favor school vouchers more than the general public.[2] The question remains, however, whether such programs would help or harm the very constituency which it is designed to protect.

Continue reading