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Autism Alliance of Michigan was represented this week at the annual Special Education rally organized by Marcie Lipsett, an education advocate and founder of Michigan Alliance for Special Education. Families from across the state attended the event, demonstrating once again the significant challenges so many face in securing adequate school programming for their children with special needs.

A number of topics were addressed by speakers ranging from elected officials, candidates for multiple offices, advocacy leaders, State Board of Education members, and parents. These included; the U.S. Department of Education’s rating Michigan’s Special Education Program as the only state this year as “needing intervention “ due to poor academic outcomes and high drop-out rates, as well as the state’s 10% requirement for eligibility, class sizes, low expectations and standards, ineffective and prohibitive administrative processes for escalating parental concerns/complaints, and civil rights violations.

Additionally, Michelle Fecteau, State Board of Education and AAoM board member, described the significant funding gaps to adequately cover the needs of this population. She noted the Lt Governor’s Special Education Task Force report, estimating our state underfunds special education by $700 million each year. Although this funding issue exists for all districts across the state, it is especially difficult in areas like Detroit, where a $40 million shortfall exists due to underfunding by the state and federal government. Colleen Allen, President and CEO, commented, “The issue of high unemployment rates for individuals with autism and related disabilities are largely a consequence of low expectations and an inability of almost 50% of special needs students to attain a high school degree. We cannot blame our teachers. However, educators are only as good as the training, resources, and recognition we give them”.

A call to action was made by Lt. Governor Brian Calley and Kristin Totten, of the ACLU. Families were encouraged to contact their legislative representatives to share concerns, participate on local school boards, educate themselves regarding their rights/responsibilities as advocates for their children’s educational needs, and to communicate demands for Department of Education policy and funding reform by candidates for office in the upcoming election.

Michelle Fecteau stated, “It is time we invested in these students. They deserve it.”

For more information on special education in Michigan, contact MiNavigator at 877.463.2266 or Navigator@aaomi.org.

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