PARTNERS IN POLITICS - THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Today feels like a day for the good, the bad and the ugly in the IDEA Reauthorization process. And whether it's the good, the bad or the ugly, it's still all about partnerships and politics. Let us show you what we mean.

The Good:
How about the way diverse groups within the community of people with disabilities, who haven't even known about each other's existences, have reached across cities, states and cyberspace to form partnerships to save IDEA for our children.

When it comes time to give out the MVP [Most Valuable Partner] from the student/parent/family/organization side, our vote goes to every person who has picked up a pen or a phone, dialed a fax or whipped off an email to Congress adding yet more power to our position and to our children. When the dust settles on the final Reauthorization bill, we'll all open our eyes to discover not that it is time to pack up the movement and go home, but that it is time to take our new-found partnership to the next issue; the next level; the next politician. Our own little - and rapidly growing - PAC: Parents/Partners Affirming Children.

The Bad:
IDEA '97 was to have been the law formed from parent/professional partnerships, leading to changes in practices - life changes in special education for our children, and for the new "Team" that was to guide the children's education. Even as the parent-professional partnerships began forming, and the state PTI's began forging uneasy, but growing relationships with state special education officers, school administrators and school boards were sending our tax payer money off to the Washington lobbyists, who already were beginning to go to Congress to say "See, it doesn't work." Okay, maybe that isn't precisely how it happened, but that's what we feel like happened. How is it that we can work so hard at the local level to live by a law that's only been implemented for two years [since 2001] and then end up listening to Congress listing off the organized school lobby's complaints? Where did they get them, if not from the "professional" side of the parent-professional partnership? To us this is not how partnerships really are supposed to work.

The Ugly:
Our easy winner so far - the Stealth Congress and the Stealth IDEA [HR 1350]. This is OUR government of the people, by the people, for the people. OUR Congress. So how has our Congress treated us so far?

Start with the Iraq War Day introduction and the announcement of NO hearings. Then we're told there will be no mark-up on April 2nd, but there is.

Same story April 9th before the whole House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Then comes the Boehner/Castle website posting that tells Congressional colleagues to ignore the parents and "their lobbyists" on our April 29th call-in day because we're either spreading falsehoods or are sadly misinformed about the true state of special education in the United States today.

Congress' partners, the school lobbyists, have the corner on the truth, and on Congress' ear. They are the true "people" who matter most to this Congress, not us; and certainly not our children. HR 1350 passes on April 30th and the battle shifts to the Senate.

We admit that S 1248 is a vast improvement on the nearly fatal blows delivered to IDEA by the House. But where are we now? We're forced into a position where, in order to save any semblance of IDEA for our children, we have to decide whether we want the knife stuck six inches into our back, or just three inches into our back. That's ugly, especially coming from our Congress.

And of course we know the most recent event, the June 25th Senate HELP Committee Mark-up, again without committee hearings, where the Committee plays shifting rooms, arguably with a timing situation slightly out of their control due to the Medicare Prescription activity. Through all of the Congressional activity, the Congress/educational lobbyist partnership has remained strong and true, while Congress has told parents in no uncertain terms that we parent/student/advocate partnership cannot derail the on-going plans to gut the discipline and short term objectives provisions of IDEA.

We've learned a lot about partnerships and politics during this latest version of the good, the bad and the ugly. Somehow we feel like we know how this one is going to turn out. The beauty of it for us, though, is that this will be the last time this Congress ever does something like this to its citizens to appease its lobbyist partnerships. We won't win every fight, but at least we know that we're going to show up in force for every fight, however ugly the fight might be. That's what partnership is all about, and it's really great to know both who your true partners are, and how many of them there are. It's beautiful.



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