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Saturday, December 17, 2011
Federal Funding Rejection Reveals DoE Scheme to Profit by Labeling More Children “Special Needs”
By Andrew Walden @ 5:46 PM :: 7570 Views :: Education K-12, Ethics

by Andrew Walden

The Obama Administration rejection of the Hawaii Department of Education application for Race to the Top Early Development Challenge (RTT-EDC) caps off a week which began with an eye-popping EdWeek expose of the “near-panic” at the US DoE after Hawaii won a $75M RTTT grant and calls by influential education reformers for that grant to be revoked because of the DoE’s failure to implement teacher evaluations.

But there is another story hidden within the RTT-EDC rejection.

Comments on page 23 of the 71 page-long Technical Review of the Hawaii DoE proposal point to a previously unknown DoE scheme to link up with Abercrombie’s much maligned Medical Homes proposal and use federal Medicaid money to screen—and therefore designate--even more children as Special Needs or High Needs. Any increase in the student population designated Special Needs triggers the flow substantial additional federal funds to the Hawaii DoE. Special Education is about 23% of the Hawaii DoE Budget.

In rejecting Hawaii DoE RTT-EDC application, the federal reviewers explain:

The Plan proposes to increase the rate of children who are screened which is anticipated to enhance the State’s ability to leverage federal Medicaid monies, but does not clearly state how it will do this. There is a Legislative Task Force exploring how to best use existing resources to increase the number of Children with High Needs who are referred for service or follow-up based on screenings. The Head Start model is suggested as a possible way to do this through ELDP. That there is not yet an articulated way to do this is a weakness of the Plan. The Plan does have four strategies for helping all children participate in ongoing health care as part of a schedule of well-child care. The family-centered medical homes concept is an important part of these strategies and is a strength of the proposal.

In one short paragraph, the reviewers have described an archetypical example of Hawaii’s corporatist economy at work. The Abercrombie administration’s “Plan for Early Childhood Education” is a scam to label even more children as “special needs” in order to get “more federal funds” for the Hawaii DoE. Abercrombie’s “Medical Homes” will do the labeling and provide the requisite pharmaceuticals and other treatments, thus generating more income for them as well. Akamai readers will remember that “more federal funds” became an unofficial theme of the Abercrombie campaign repeated over and over again in debates with Republican candidate Duke Aiona. Now you know what he was talking about.

But what is the price of “more federal funds”?

Psychiatrists, Dr. Ronald Ricker and Dr. Venus Nicolino, in September, 2010 write:

Today, the administration of psychoactive drugs to children (6-17) is all too common and growing at an alarming rate. These drugs often cause the opposite of the intended effect, often condemning children to a life of misery and ill health. The prescription of these drugs is said to treat "chemical imbalances" which were said to cause ADHD, Depression and Bi-polar disorder. It turns out, however, that what we were calling "disease-causing chemical imbalances," is simply incorrect . The sad irony is, the inappropriate use of these medications is in fact creating different chemical imbalances, which do cause mental disorders, many of which are both life-long and debilitating.

Furthermore, it is now clear that often we are diagnosing ordinary childhood and adolescent behavior as mental disorders….

How many children will lose out on their opportunity for an education because of this scam?

How many children will spend their formative years doped-up on Ritalin, Adderall, or other psychoactive prescription drugs so the Hawaii DoE and Abercrombie’s Medical Homes can have more money and power?

Fortunately for the children of Hawaii, the Hawaii DoE failed—for now. Words like “medium-low quality response” appear again and again in the Federal evaluators’ comments -- indicating that the Hawaii DoE wasn’t trying very hard. Lack of effort is a logical outcome of the recognition by local DoE officials that the US DoE regrets its initial Race to the Top award of $75M to Hawaii and is not going to allow a repeat performance. As Education Week points out:

Already, education policy experts who are watching progress in Race to the Top states are urging the Education Department to make an example out of Hawaii for its lack of progress—real or perceived—on its teacher-evaluation component.

Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Center for Teacher Quality, said during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in October that if Hawaii doesn't lose its Race to the Top money for teacher-evaluation failures, "something is wrong." And even though other states are pushing back deadlines, Hawaii's slow start to its teacher-evaluation piece "is the most egregious," said Charles Barone, of the Democrats for Education Reform, a New York-based political action committee, in an interview.

But that doesn’t mean the Abercrombie administration is quitting. A defiant administration news release asserts:

“I congratulate our Early Childhood Coordinator Terry Lock and her team for their tireless work on the Plan and the grant application. We certainly could have used those funds to supplement our efforts in pushing the Plan’s initiatives,” said Governor Abercrombie. “Yet, thanks to their efforts we now have an ambitious state plan for Early Childhood Education reform. That in itself is an achievement we are proud of and are committed to seeing through.” ….

“Through this process, partnerships between state agencies, and private and public sectors have been strengthened around a unified framework,” said Ms. Lock. “This state plan will be the guide for building a stronger quality early care and education system for our youngest keiki, especially those with high needs, and their families.…. Our keiki are our future. " ….

Back in October, Senator Jill Tokuda, State Senate Education Committee Chair stated, “This was a unique opportunity to quickly come together as an early childhood community and define what it is that we want for our youngest of students and identify how we must work together to get there. Regardless of the outcome, this application has resulted in a very viable roadmap for a successful early childhood system, and with Terry Lock driving the plan, I am excited about how far we will be able to go."

In other words, they are mildly disappointed that federal RTT-EDC funds will not be available to pay for their scheme to score more federal Special Education funds, but the Special Education money is so bounteous that they will just use State funds to go after it.

The final page of the reviewers’ comments relates to “promoting school readiness for children with high needs” -- in other words, helping the children after labeling them -– and here the comments are damning:

The Hawaii application did not meet this priority. The State was not convincing …. The necessary changes and integrated programs have not been proposed and plans are not adequate to garner the quality and comprehensive outcomes expected from young children with high needs ….

As Abercrombie said: “We now have an ambitious state plan for Early Childhood Education reform. That in itself is an achievement we are proud of and are committed to seeing through.”

Your keiki are the old boys’ future.


Related: Education Week: If Hawaii Doesn’t Lose its Race to the Top Money, Something is Wrong

Race to the Top -- Early Learning Challenge Hawaii

  • Application download files PDF (3.7M)
  • Appendix download files PDF (6.2M)
  • Score sheet download files PDF (94K)
  • Reviewers' comments and scores download files PDF (7.7M)

News Release: Administration Committed to Implementing Plan for Early Childhood Education

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