Bush Administration Wants to Deny Services to Disabled Students by John M. Williams
Unless Congress acts by June to reverse a Bush administration policy to deny hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funding for disabled students, schools nationwide would have to reduce health services or eliminate programs. More than $630 million could be trimmed this year and more than $3.6 billion over five years.
An angry educator told me, "If this policy takes effect, we could not bill Medicaid from busing our disabled students and enrolling students in Medicaid services."
Calls to the White House for comments were not returned.
The policy appears to coincide with the Bush administration's conservative philosophy that local schools should fund their own programs. If the policy goes into effect, schools everywhere will feel the impact and either taxes have to be raised or services cut.
"Communities across the country are seeing dwindling financial resources and couldn't afford to lose these funds," said Tom Stanton, special education lawyer.
On Capitol Hill, the Democrats are outraged and Representative John Dingell (D-MI) and other law makers have introduced a bill to reverse the rule. Sources tell me the chances of the bill passing in the House are excellent. Moderate Republicans are expected to support the legislation. The Senate is also expected to pass similar legislation. The concern is will President Bush veto such legislation and can a veto be overridden.
Last September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed the rule. Three months later, the rule was finalized over objections from Democrats who inserted a six month delay and then passed legislation ensuring the delay.
The rule is supposed to correct improper billing from some states. A spokesman for the Centers told me, "Schools will be given money for services all ready paid for provided they have submitted proper forms."
Irate school officials in California, Virginia, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina and other states are united against the implementation of the rule.
A Mississippi school superintendent, who wants to remain anonymous, said, "If this rule goes into effect, it can hamper our efforts to buy assistive technology products for students with disabilities."
The Bush administration knew there would be a backlash against the rule, and it moved forward with it. It had to know the Democrats would oppose it. Instead of continuing the policy of divided government, the administration should have worked with Congress to produce a policy that was acceptable to everyone. Its willingness to punish school districts and children with disabilities again reveals the phoniness behind the phrase, compassionate conservatism. Congress should pass the law to eliminate the rule, and the American public should demand that the Congress overturn any veto.
If Congress had any guts, even though it is an election year, in retaliation for a threatened veto, it should pass a law that restructures the Bush tax cuts so that the wealthiest people pay higher taxes this year. Such an action would lower the federal deficit and ensure the $3.6 billion were there for schools.