MARTHA CHENEY: Seeking clarity on special needs



OK! I am confused. The Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate have passed bills creating a way for parents of various special-needs students to receive $6,000 from the state for education purposes. Sounds reasonable at first read but then the questions begin:

• Who identifies the students and how?

• What if some students, such as students with speech impediments, need only temporary help?

• Will the private agency interact with the public schools?

• If students re-enter the public schools what regulations will apply?

• Who pays for the testing of these students?

• Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves stated, “The bill gives parents of special-needs children the option to customize education to the needs of their child and give them the best opportunity for success.” My question is, “Where are the resources/programs that would give parents these options?”

• How will the money flow and how will there be accountability?

I repeat, I am confused – but there are some things that are not confusing to me. I have worked with parents of children with special needs. I have seen their intense desire to protect their children. I have taught students with ADHD and know that they have some of our brightest/most creative minds. I have watched teachers patiently respond to the physical needs of extremely challenged children and know the toll it takes on their energy and patience. I have visited Magnolia Speech School with my brother who has served on the board for over 40 years. I observed what is possible with adequate resources. I have been frustrated by the growth of testing and labeling of our children.

And finally I know that you are treading on holy ground when you interact with special-needs children and their parents. These parents need support and they need to hear the truth: $6,000 will not provide what these children need. The bureaucracy and for-profit interests required to implement these bills will consume a large portion of the funds. Our public schools are far from perfect but they are staffed by our neighbors and friends – we need to trust them more and fund them adequately. I have contacted Sen. Collins because I want to hear her reasoning. Nancy seems to be a caring person but I just wonder who is advising her. Change and competition are not bad but moving our schools in the wrong direction is.

Mississippi is a rural state with limited resources and a scattered special needs population. Providing quality services for these students is a complex task. The unintended consequences of the bills that have been passed and will now go to conference are difficult to imagine. We are treading on holy ground.

Martha Cheney is a retired educator who lives in the region. She writes occasionally for the Opinion pages. Contact her at