Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Slap in the Face: Utilitarianism and Special Needs Kids

Below is Chuck Colson's latest Breakpoint Column. Well worth a read.

January 25, 2010

Suppose you received a letter asking for a contribution to help needy children. The solicitation was filled with heart-rending pictures and stories about the children’s plight and how your money can make the difference between a bleak future and one filled with hope.

Duly moved, you make a donation only to learn that the organization used the money for something else. How would you feel about that? I’m guessing angry.

Well, now you know how parents of children with special needs are feeling.

The stimulus bill passed last year by Congress included $11.3 billion in federal assistance to special education programs across the country. This doubled the amount from the previous year. Advocates for kids with special needs believe that the increasing funding could have had a “huge impact” on the lives of these kids.

Notice I said, “could have.” That’s because a lot of the money isn’t going to help children with special needs. Instead, schools are “redirecting” the federal funds to other uses.

That’s what happened in Broward County, Florida: They cut their special education budget by 32 million dollars after receiving $50 million from the federal government. Thus, children with special needs weren’t the principal beneficiaries of the federal grants – the rest of the school system was. Broward used the money to save 600 to 900 jobs unrelated to special education.

Broward is far from alone: a government survey found that 44 percent of the nation’s school district plan to do exactly the same thing.

Some school officials say that by redirecting the funds, they are benefiting more people than they could have otherwise: They can save jobs and fund other programs for more students.

This is simply another application of utilitarianism—a thoroughly anti-Christian worldview, which espouses “the greatest good for the greatest number.” If a small number of the most vulnerable among us are hurt in the process—like special needs kids—well, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

But apply that utilitarian standard to medical care, it becomes very scary for everyone.

As if this weren’t bad enough, the way school districts become eligible for diverting these funds is what’s most outrageous: you only qualify if you meet certain goals, such as graduation rates. So what are schools, desperate for the money, doing? They are lowering their standards to improve their graduation rates and therefore get government money to use for the wrong purposes.

Finally, while the stimulus money is temporary, the local cuts in special education funding aren’t likely to be. So the most vulnerable kids in our schools are getting shortchanged now and they will be shortchanged later. No wonder one advocate for these children called it a “slap in the face.”

I call it shortsighted and cynical. As the grandfather of a child with special needs, I’m outraged that schools are using money intended to help these kids to make up for their own mistakes and lack of proper planning. Talk about punishing the innocent!

As a Christian, I’m worried about the effect of theses kinds of shenanigans will have on our already-tattered confidence in our government. How would people if they knew that the tax dollars they thought were going to help kids who need all the help they can get had been diverted?

I’m guessing even angrier.

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