L.D. 765

L.D. 765, H.P. 572
An Act to Address the Documented Educational and Rehabilitation Needs of
Persons Who Are Visually Impaired or Blind

 Sponsored by:                   Rep. Paul Davis, R. Sangerville                                   

Co-sponsors:

Rep. Michael Celli, R. Brewer

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R. Newport

 

Rep. Paul Gilbert, D. Jay 

Rep. Peter Johnson, R. Greenville

 

 Rep. Beth O’Connor, R. Berwick

Rep. Kimberly Olsen, R. Phippsburg

 

Rep. Wesley Richardson, R. Warren

Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R. Cumberland

 

Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R. Winterport

 

L.D. 765 appropriates $468,678 in FY2012 and $511,987 in FY2013 to hire: 

                2 Certified Teachers of the Visually Impaired at Catholic Charities Maine;
                1 full-time Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist in Rockland;
                2 half-time Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists in Bangor and Houlton;
                1 Blindness Program Design and Evaluation Specialist at The Iris Network;
                1 Orientation & Mobility Instructor for the Blind at DBVI; and
                1 Blindness Rehabilitation Specialist at DBVI.

The need for these positions has been documented in two reports as follows:

  1. The report of a public and private stakeholder working group including consumers established to review the current and future needs of blind or visually impaired individuals authorized by the State of Maine through Resolve 2009, chapter 39 which includes the following recommendations:
    a. Provide new funding for 11.5 FTEs of professional staff including:

                                                i.      3.5 Teachers of the Visually Impaired,

                                                ii.      2 Orientation and Mobility Instructors,

                                                iii.      1.5 Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors,

                                                iv.      1.5 Vision Rehabilitation Therapists,

                                                v.      2 Blindness Rehabilitation Specialists,

                                                vi.      1 Adjustment to Blindness Counselor.

b.Read the full report at http://www.theiris.org/get-involved/advocacy; and

  1. The recommendations of the Maine Department of Education's corrective action plan work group in regard to Disability Rights Center v. Maine Department of Education dated July 28, 2010

a.The Report includes the following recommendations:

i.      Hire four additional Teachers of the Visually Impaired and one additional Orientation and Mobility Instructor,
ii.      Raise the salaries of Teachers of the Visually Impaired to $34,733 for entry level with Bachelor’s degree, and $42,754 for entry level with Master’s degree,
iii.      Pay tuition costs and an internship stipend for those who wish to become Teachers of the Visually Impaired,
iv.      Modify the DOE/DOL Cooperative Agreement to include an annual needs assessment,
v.      Form a work group that will determine the scope and nature of the annual needs assessment,
vi.      Train school district personnel in the use of the Expanded Core Curriculum as a guide to the development of IEP’s and IFSP’s,

b.Read the full report at http://www.theiris.org/get-involved/advocacy.

L.D. 765 addresses the immediate crisis documented by the two reports by investing resources to fund staff shortages, thereby:

  1. Avoiding a failure by this State to comply with federally mandated levels of special education services for Maine students who are blind or visually impaired;
  2. Investing in vocational rehabilitation and job training for transition-age students and young adults with vision loss so that they become part of the tax-paying work force, rather than collecting public assistance for decades to come; and
  3. Saving scarce state resources that would otherwise be used for long-term nursing care by investing in compensatory training for older adults with vision loss so they can continue to live independently in their own homes; thus delaying or avoiding unaffordable and unnecessary institutional care. 

Funding these positions will invest scarce state resources in teachers, therapists and instructors, rather than spending public funds to fight law suits by parents of blind children for failure by schools to provide a free and appropriate public education as required by federal special education law – an indefensible position that risks loss of federal special education funding for the entire State of Maine. 

L.D. 765 also invests in vocational rehabilitation specialists and vision rehabilitation therapists to work with transition-age students and young adults with vision loss so that they can obtain competitive employment and become taxpayers, rather than relying on public assistance throughout their lifetimes.

L.D. 765 invests funds to hire professionals to provide cost-effective training for older adults dealing with vision loss so that they can continue living independently in their own homes at an average cost of $1,350 per person; thus, saving the State of Maine hundreds of thousands of dollars for each client for whom long-term nursing care is delayed or avoided.

In recognition of Maine’s budget challenges, L.D. 765 does not spend as much as either report recommends; rather, it provides funding for a Program Design and Evaluation Specialist who will work to insure that the investment in program resources achieves the independent living, employment and community integration goals of people with vision loss in communities throughout the State of Maine.

 This investment is needed now in order to:

  • Avoid costly special education litigation by investing those scarce resources in educational services for students who are blind or visually impaired;
  • Provide vocational rehabilitation and job training for transition-age students and young adults who are blind or visually impaired so they can live independently, have employable skills, can obtain meaningful work and can contribute to the tax base; and
  • Meet the rapidly expanding need for vision rehabilitation services for adults dealing with vision loss due to both the maturing of the baby boom generation, and the prevalence of age-related eye diseases that cause vision loss, in order to avoid unnecessary institutional care that Maine cannot afford.
 
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