Douglas hopes to fight special education budget cuts

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says new proposed federal budget cuts in the special education program will have a devastating impact on children in Vermont who have special needs.

The Governor says he hopes to rally a coalition of governors to actively fight these cuts.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s concerned about a disturbing new trend being implemented by the Bush Administration.

That trend is to make significant cuts in critical programs through the rule making process without involving Congress.

The latest example of this approach is an effort by the Administration to cut nearly 23 million dollars from Vermont’s special education budget by challenging some services for students who are also enrolled in Medicaid.

The cut represents about 10% of all state and federal spending on special education – the governor says the reductions are troubling:

(Douglas) "This would have a devastating impact on kids in Vermont with special needs and also some programs for hiring school nurses and dental hygienists guidance counselors substance abuse professionals in our schools so this would be a very significant impact and we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen."

(Kinzel) The Bush Administration is also fighting Vermont’s effort to use Medicaid funds to help finance part of the new Catamount Health Care plan. It’s another decision that mystifies Douglas:

(Douglas) "I can’t explain why the Administration is proposing these cuts it’s very different from the collegial working relationship that we’ve traditionally had where they’ve given state more flexibility this seems to be a dramatic reversal of that."

(Kinzel) Senate Appropriations committee chairwoman Susan Bartlett says it’s wrong for the Bush Administration to try to dump their financial problems on the backs of the states:

(Bartlett) "I just know if any one of the states were spending in the manner that the federal government is I think we’d probably get thrown out of the Union."

(Kinzel) If the special ed cuts are adopted, Bartlett says lawmakers will have to seek other ways to save money in the state’s Education Fund:

(Bartlett) "The whole conversation about cost containment in our public school system those conversations need to continue even though they’re difficult but that definitely is an important issue and I’m sure we and the public will continue having those conversations this coming year."

(Kinzel) Douglas serves as the chairman of the Health committee of the National Governors Association. In that capacity, he says he hopes to build a broad coalition of governors to fight the Bush Administration plan.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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