L.D. 765 Letter

March 24, 2012

Re:       L.D. 765 as amended

Dear Senator Rector, Representative Prescott, members of the L.C.R.E.D. Committee and Sponsors of L.D. 765:

The Iris Network and Catholic Charities Maine, administrator of DBVI’s Education Services for Blind Children program, both have significant concerns regarding the language now included in L.D. 765 as amended.  Our two organizations are seeking your assistance to inform the Appropriations Committee of the importance of striking certain language that is now part of the amended bill.

Our concern is that L.D. 765 as amended now includes problematic changes to DBVI’s enabling act that were not discussed by the L.C.R.E.D. Committee at its Work Session on February 10.  Specifically, the bill now includes the following provision:

Sec. 1. 26 MRSA §1418-D, sub-§2, as enacted by PL 1995, c. 560, Pt. F, §13, is amended to read:

2. Department of Education input; school administrative units. The division shall ensure that the Department of Education has input into any contract to provide educational services and delivery of those services to blind or visually impaired children from birth to 20 years of age. Educational services that are required by federal law to be provided to blind or visually impaired children from birth to 20 years of age must take precedence over services provided to blind or visually impaired adults. Nothing in this section relieves school administrative units from fulfilling their responsibilities under Title 20-A, Part 4, subpart 1.  (Emphasis added)

The second sentence of the paragraph quoted above has replaced language that Representative Davis presented at the February 10 Work Session and that the L.C.R.E.D. Committee included in its motion that L.D. 765 as amended ought to pass.  Specifically, the language no longer included is as follows:

…  A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will be created to ensure that the Maine Department of Education (DOE) has substantive input to any Contract to provide educational services to blind or visually impaired children, age birth to twenty (20.) The MOU will also ensure that the DOE has substantive input for the delivery of services to blind or visually impaired children, age birth to twenty (20).  In addition, the MOU will ensure that children are served first, by staff who serve both children and adults.  The DOL/DBVI will continue to be the contract administrator.

The language now included in L.D. 765 as amended would have significant negative consequences on the delivery of blindness education and rehabilitation services to students and adults throughout the State of Maine.  If enacted, this will require DBVI to reallocate funds from adult services in order to provide services to students whenever there are inadequate resources to meet all of the educational and rehabilitation needs of students and adults.  Such a reallocation will result in the loss of federal matching funds for DBVI’s vocational rehabilitation and independent living services; thus, further exacerbating the critical funding shortages that now exist.

This shift in approach is a major public policy change.  DBVI’s enabling act now provides for DBVI to assist schools to meet their obligation to provide specialized educational services for students who are visually impaired or blind.  The proposed change in DBVI’s enabling act would shift the burden of providing a free and appropriate public education to students who are visually impaired or blind from local schools to DBVI.  It would also result in cutting resources available for vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for adults who are visually impaired or blind.

We sincerely appreciate the true understanding of the compelling need for increased funding to address the educational and rehabilitation needs of Maine citizens who are visually impaired or blind which all of the members of the L.C.R.E.D. Committee have expressed during numerous public hearings and work sessions.  We want to sincerely thank the members of the L.C.R.E.D. Committee for their strong support for the bill as expressed in their letter addressed to the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs dated February 14, 2012.

This bill was intended, however, to obtain additional resources to address the educational and rehabilitation needs of Maine’s visually impaired and blind citizens.  The language quoted above would undermine this effort by reducing the amount of federal matching funds DBVI would receive.

Please help us work with the members of the Appropriations Committee to amend the language of Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended by striking the second sentence in order to avoid losing federal matching funds.  Please also continue to urge the members of the Appropriations Committee to find new money for the funding initiatives included in L.D. 765 in order to bring the state into compliance with federal special education requirements.

Very truly yours,

James E. Phipps, Executive Director
The Iris Network

cc:  Commissioners of DOL and DOE, Director of
DBVI, Director of the Education Services for Blind Children’s Program at
Catholic Charities Maine, Chair of the SRC to DBVI, Presidents of ACB of Maine,
NFB of Maine, NAPVI/Maine and Pine Tree Guide Dog Users

 
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