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LD 765 Testimony

Senator Christopher W. Rector, Representative Kerri L. Prescott and Members of The Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development
Burton M. Cross State Office Building, Room 208
111 Sewall Street
Augusta, Maine

Re:      Testimony in Support of L.D. 765
Dear Senator Rector, Representative Prescott and members of the LCRED Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to present information in support of L.D. 765.  L.D. 765 has been introduced as a result of two groundbreaking reports discussed below.

These reports document the fact that an immediate crisis exists due to the deplorable inadequacy of funding for educational and rehabilitation services for Maine children, students and adults who are visually impaired or blind.

By way of background, in 2009, Representative Tim Driscoll introduced L.D. 564 in the 124th Legislature.  L.D. 564 proposed approximately $500,000 dollars of new funding in an effort to increase the number of Vision Rehabilitation Therapists and other blindness professionals available throughout the State of Maine to meet the needs of the increasing number of adults dealing with vision loss.

Due to the budget constraints that existed at that time, the bill was amended to call for a needs assessment authorized by the 124th Legislature through Resolve 2009, chapter 39, to review the current and future needs of Mainers with vision loss.  The recommendations of this report (the “Resolve Report”) were formulated by a public and private stakeholder working group including
consumers and were presented to both the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor, and the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, in February of 2010 by then Commissioner of Labor, Laura Fortman.

The Resolve Report (copy enclosed) recommended that approximately $1.1 million dollars of new funding be found for

  • 11.5 FTEs of professional staff including:
  • 3.5 Teachers of the Visually Impaired,
  • 2 Orientation and Mobility Instructors,
  • 1.5 Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors,
  • 1.5 Vision Rehabilitation Therapists,
  • 2 Blindness Rehabilitation Specialists and
  • 1 Adjustment to Blindness Counselor.

Please read the full report at http://www.theiris.org/get-involved/advocacy.  This funding has not been appropriated as yet and these professionals have not yet been hired.

In the meanwhile - and indicative of the validity of the inadequacies identified in the Resolve Report - a systemic complaint was brought by Maine’s Disability Rights Center against the Maine Department of Education in January of 2010.  The complaint alleged that 19 visually impaired students in Maine were on a waiting list to receive special education services due to the lack of an adequate number of Teachers of the Visually Impaired.  The DOE investigated this complaint and found that it had merit. As a result, DOE implemented a Corrective Action Plan in order to avoid
non-compliance with federal special education regulations.  Notably, failure to comply with federal
special education regulations could cause loss of federal funding for special
education services throughout the State of Maine.

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
(copy enclosed), are summarized below:

  • Hire four additional Teachers of the
    Visually Impaired and one additional Orientation and Mobility Instructor,
  • 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,
  • Pay tuition costs and an internship
    stipend for those who wish to become Teachers of the Visually Impaired,
  • Modify the DOE/DOL Cooperative
    Agreement to include an annual needs assessment,
  • Form a work group that will determine
    the scope and nature of the annual needs assessment and
  • Train school district personnel in
    the use of the Expanded Core Curriculum as a guide to the development of IEP’s
    and IFSP’s,

Please read the full report at http://www.theiris.org/get-involved/advocacy.

Taken together, these two reports indicate that services for Maine children, students
and adults dealing with severe vision loss are grossly inadequate.  If enacted, L.D. 765 will provide a
substantial additional investment in educational and rehabilitation services for Mainers dealing with vision loss.  Passage of L.D. 765 is needed now in order to:

  • Avoid costly special education litigation by investing 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.

Consequently, Representative Paul Davis and nine co-sponsors have introduced L.D. 765 which,
if approved, would fund approximately $500,000 of the $1.1 million dollar need for educational and rehabilitation services for people who are visually impaired or blind documented in the Resolve Report.  We know that finding approximately $500,000 per year in the biennial budget is
tough, but the investment will save future state expenditures far exceeding the amount of this investment.

That is, 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 of the above-referenced reports 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.

I urge you to please report L.D. 765 out as “ought to pass” and help us work with your colleagues on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee to look for additional funds in the biennial budget to invest in educational and rehabilitation services for children, students and adults who are visually
impaired or blind.

Respectfully
submitted,

James E. Phipps, MBA/JD
President & Executive Director

 
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