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Iowa Special Education Teachers Help the State Fight Its Way Back From Budget Cuts
“Kids arrive in school with lots of puzzle pieces, and it takes a lot to know what the kiddos need and how they can be supported,” –Patti Pace-Tracy, District Special Education Director of the Davenport school district, quoted by the Quad City Times, 2016.
Special education is a field that presents unique challenges and obstacles. In recent years, Iowa’s special education programs have faced additional obstacles to students’ learning opportunities. Since 2002, the public-school system has been repeatedly subjected to special education budget cuts that have impacted the state’s programs.
In 2014, Iowa spent $17,529 per special education student. However, the Iowa Area Education Agencies, the organization that oversees the state’s public school special education programs, has faced continual budget cuts from 2002-2016.
With budget cuts, there are fewer occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other resources available to students with disabilities.
Parents of Special Needs Students Speak Out
In addition, parents of special needs students have expressed concern that they are not allowed an active role in their child’s education.
In 2016, the Iowa City School District was put under review by the Iowa State Department of Education (DOE) because of the district’s failure to keep the parents of students with special needs informed of changes to Individual Education Programs (IEP).
This issue has been persistent throughout the state as parents often feel cut off from their child’s education. Many parents feel like they don’t have a voice in their child’s program as they have been uninformed of changes to their child’s IEP and not included in meetings that effect special education programs.
Heidi Pierce, the parent of a special needs child in the Iowa City school district, advocates for families seeking greater support in Iowa schools. Special education teachers are at the forefront of working to engage and inform parents by including them in progress meetings, encouraging them to have a say in their child’s education, and ensuring they have a clear understanding of the child’s curriculum and IEP.
Iowa’s Master’s Prepared Special Education Teachers Improve Special Education One Classroom at a Time
While parents are concerned about being cut off from their children’s education, teachers can make an incredible difference by reaching out and making themselves available to parents and students.
Iowa is home to many excellent teachers with master’s degrees in special education committed to improving communication between parents, students, and educators. Two of these educators include:
- Anita Micich, the superintendent of Iowa’s Clear Lake and Mason City Schools. She’s passionate about special education because of her experience as a teacher. For seven years, Micich taught in a school that specifically served a special needs population from ages 5-21. She maintains that every teacher should teach in a special education classroom for at least a year to understand the unique challenges of the population. She’s also dedicated to improving communication between parents and educators.
- Amanda Uhlenhopp is a special education teacher at CAL in Iowa. She became passionate about special education after she worked in a substitute teaching position in a special ed classroom, although she didn’t initially intend to become a special education teacher. Uhlenhopp aims to educate all teachers about how school systems can improve the special education experience.