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House Republicans want cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. How would that affect Illinois students with disabilities?

Michelle Mowder (right) visits a Black history art fair with her daughter, Rhiannon, and her son, Clint, at Eisenhower High School in Decatur.

CHAMPAIGN – More than 75 percent of Illinois students with disabilities would see reduced support under the House Republican proposal to raise the federal debt ceiling.

That’s according to the U.S. Department of Education, which released an analysis of the bill last week.

Many special education advocates say the federal government already underfunds legally required services for students with disabilities.

“[Students and parents] are not asking for the world, and they’re not asking to be overserviced here. It’s just that the money is not matching up with what the kids are entitled to,” said special education teacher Mike Slagor.

Slagor teaches at Central High School in the Champaign Unit 4 School District.

He said the district is already struggling to fill teacher’s aide vacancies.

“When you have 20 students assigned to a space with just a couple of staff members to get those needs met, that becomes quite hard. But the same requirements are still on the table,” Slagor said.

Special education services can raise grades, make school fun

Michelle Mowder is a mother who said those services matter to her children, who have disabilities. She said one-on-one attention from the special education program in Decatur Public Schools has made a huge difference for her daughter.

“It brought her grades up from an F to an A,” Mowder said.

She said her son hated school until she fought to get him an individualized education program (IEP) too. Now he has a math tutor, a reading and writing tutor and a social worker meeting with him – and he finally enjoys school.

She worried that children like hers will miss their chance to excel if Congress decreases funding for special education.

“Especially low-income families like mine may not have the resources for outside tutoring, or their kids may not respond to other methods of help,” Mowder said.

House Republicans say the bill limits wasteful spending

House Republicans narrowly passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act last week, which raises the country’s debt ceiling while promoting GOP priorities. They said their proposal limits wasteful spending. Democrats said the bill is too extreme and dead on arrival.

According to the Department of Education, the cuts would be equivalent to removing 2,000 special education teachers and related staff from Illinois classrooms.

There are about 379,000 students with disabilities in public schools statewide, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The Ed Department estimated about 289,000 would see reduced services.

The Treasury Department has announced that Congress likely must raise the debt limit by June 1 to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its loans.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter@amihatt.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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