Bending a Deaf Ear Towards the Budget

Bending a Deaf Ear Towards the Budget


Monday, February 14, 2011

The atmosphere at this morning’s House Appropriations Subcommittee meeting
on the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) and the
Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) was somewhat subdued, perhaps owing to the
fact that it began at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday.

However, between the breakfast taco banter the conversation did often turn
serious, due to the gravity of the subject matter and proposed cuts to these

Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Houston Democrat and Chair of the Committee, made it
clear early on that a full review of services and mission should be expected
due to current budgetary constrictions that call for a 10 percent cut from
both schools. “We’re not going to restore everything,” Hochberg said. “A
significant number of people who voted in this state want government to do
less. So it’s our job to ask questions about who you’re serving and who
you’re not and where the priorities are.”

But as members of the public testified, it became clear how valuable these
services are to the families who depend on them. Robbie Caldwell, mother of
9-year-old Gabrielle Caldwell, who is both deaf and blind, said, “each year
my daughter is at TSD she makes advances previously thought unimaginable.”

Even if the Legislature musters the courage to whack schools for the blind
and deaf, the state may be putting itself in jeopardy of big-time lawsuits.

Bill Daugherty, superintendent for the SBVI, told Senators on the finance
committee last week that under the federal Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, special needs schools are required to enroll students who
can’ t get adequate service from local school districts.

With both schools being asked to take 10 percent budget cuts, it would seem
impossible to keep up with enrollment demand. Dvorah Ben-Moshe, President of
Civication, an organization that promotes civic learning, said, “Services
for the deaf are now experiencing an unprecedented increase in Texas at 12
percent. With increased enrollment, Texas School for the Deaf needs more
funding not less.”

Currently TSD has about 550 students. Sustaining the proposed 10 percent cut
would force them to slash enrollment to about 470, according to Claire
Bugen, superintendent of TSD. Not only would this inhibit TSD from meeting
its legal obligation of accepting students referred from local school
districts, but it would also force them to cut personnel and reduce crucial

“If this 10 percent cut is maintained we’ll have to redefine our scope of
services and mission,” said Bugen.


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