Public Comments for 01/05/2023 Regional Public Hearing on the Governor's Proposed Amendments to the 2022-2024 Biennium Budget; Virtual Public Hearing - Northern Virginia
Rebecca Kiessling is the executive director of NAMI Northern Virginia. NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness – is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. NAMI provides free advocacy, education, support, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. NAMI Northern Virginia is the largest NAMI affiliate in the Commonwealth, serving the over 2.4 million people of Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church. Our programs can help you to better understand your or a loved one’s mental health condition. For over 45 years, NAMI Northern Virginia has been the leading local voice of lived experience. We understand because we’ve been there too. Rebecca testifies on behalf of the lived experience, those with mental illness and their family members. The attached testimony is in support of fully funding the initiatives of Region 2 Community Services Boards.
I am a parent and lifetime Fairfax county resident. Creating wildlife corridors is good for animals, good for humans, and good for Virginia, but it is not just greenwashing or something nice to say. Studies made by VDOT show that they are effective and generate savings which exceed the costs of implementation in just two years. I am asking for 5 million in funding to support the implementation of wildlife corridors in Virginia and asking that the 350 million in federal funding from the Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act be leveraged in support of this cause. Protecting ecosystems and preventing collisions are good for Virginia.
My name is Angie Leonard and I reside in the County of Botetourt. I am the former CEO of Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center and now work for Virginia Institute of Autism, as we merged together January 1 of this year. I started a school in Roanoke and grew it to serve Lynchburg and Lexington, to help autistic children such as my son Joshua. Joshua is now 27 years old and a working, functioning member of our society. Although he is doing great, he will always need assistance in living and working. He was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. He was nonverbal, aggressive and extremely unhappy. We were devastated and no resources existed in our area. Today, I would like to speak to the General Assembly requesting that language be removed that implements rate setting effective July 1. In our schools, we take the hardest of the hard, and we work through the challenges of the most severe behavior you can imagine. It takes a village, and it is extremely intensive work that requires the most seasoned and trained people to work with these amazing children in order to get them where my son Joshua is now, which by the way saves the State of VA hundreds of thousands of dollars in hospitalization and institutionalization costs in the future! You pay now or you pay later, and later comes with a much higher price tag! We work hard with our local school districts to serve the students that they are unable to. We have to have the funds to pay the experts! We are unaware of any legislation, current or past, in either party to support or implement this flawed policy. JLARC confirmed that increasing costs of serving our students are aligned with other states and that increase can be directly correlated with the numbers of severe autism growing. They also confirm that rate setting does not save VA any money! This policy is a threat to the most vulnerable children in our state and hurts our families. At VIA (previously BRAAC) we gladly work with these students, provide them with dignity and give them skills to succeed. It is expensive, yes. But the alternative is worse. I am attaching pictures representing a local school division placed student who we took on. This is our classroom after having him his first day, The other picture is a bite a staff member suffered a few days later. That student, three years later, returned to his public school where he is still being served today! This is not an unusual case for us. What a difference highly trained and experienced staff make when special education day schools are willing to meet the challenge and work with those who others are unable to! And thank goodness we are there and willing to do so. Rate setting will hinder the ability for schools like ours to do the work that no others can, and with respect and dignity the students so well deserve!
The costs of AAA services are supported by a combination of federal, state, local, and private dollars. The allocation of federal and state funds to each of the 25 Area Agencies on Aging is determined by a funding formula that is administered by the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services. Due to changes in the funding formula, the Virginia AAA network faces a bureaucratic dilemma in 2023; a gap of $700,000 in funding. This gap in funding to provide vital services is largely attributable to a federally required update to the funding formula. State supplemental funding will be essential to keep essential home and community-based services in place in certain regions of the Commonwealth as funds are redistributed according to the mandated formula revisions. Without these funds this reallocation of federal and state funds will cause uneven disruptions in services in Arlington and across the Commonwealth. Funds taken from a region means service reductions, specifically, an older adult receiving services on June 30, 2023, will be at risk of not being served after July 1. Although the required redistribution will help 14 AAAs meet their growing needs, without Supplemental Funding, 11 AAAs across the Commonwealth will be eliminating services to older adults being served today. At a time when our older adult population is the fastest growing demographic in Arlington, the impact of the proposed funding formula will result in an 8 percent reduction in federal and state funding. The reduction in funds translates into fewer meals delivered to older adults who are homebound, fewer in-home hours of personal care, less outreach and support to caregivers, and fewer transportation trips to get to and from the grocery store or to pick up medications. Virginia’s AAAs are vital resources to local communities, older adults, persons with disabilities and their caregivers. I urge you to provide $700,000 in supplemental funding and support to help us do this essential work.
Corporations are making record profits and my family and I believe it is wrong to reward them with reduced taxes…Everyone should pay their fair share.
The academic outcomes for students with disabilities in Virginia are disturbing, and have been since before the pandemic. From 2016-2017 through 2018-2019, the statewide pass rates for the Reading SOL for students with disabilities were 47%, 48% and 47% respectively. Writing was 42%, 42% and 39% respectively. History was 59%, 57% and 52% respectively. Math was 48%, 47% and 55%, while science was 52%, 50% and 51% respectively. Those numbers have nothing to do with Covid related learning loss. The 2021-2022 numbers are worse, yes. The 2021-2022 pass rates are as follows: Reading - 43%, Writing - 24%, History - 35%, Math - 39%, and Science - 36%. Yet, despite these horrific outcomes for students with disabilities, the budget does not specifically provide additional support for special education. The national teacher shortage is long-standing, and does impact all education areas - but special education is one of, if not the, hardest hit. Teachers who support students with disabilities - whether that is in general education classrooms, or self-contained environments - need significant training in a vast array of educational and behavioral techniques in order to support the diverse needs in their classrooms. FCPS has numerous multi-grade level self-contained classrooms, even many where students in K-6 are all in one classroom! This is not unique to FCPS either - this occurs throughout the state. It is difficult enough to provide the necessary differentiation within one classroom in the confines of one curriculum - but currently, these teachers are being expected to master and teach up to 7 different grade levels at once! It is untenable, and it all comes back to the staffing ratios at the state. The state must increase the staffing ratios to better support special education teachers. This goes for related service providers as well. Our speech therapists/PTs/OTs/Assistive Technology specialists often serve more than one school - some up to 10 different schools! They have caseloads far above the maximum recommended caseloads by their professional organizations. Virginia has recognized the need to address the staffing ratios for mental health personnel - and this is very much a similar need. Students are not receiving the services necessary for them to access their education because these ratios require them to carry caseloads that are far too high as it is, and it shows in the academic outcomes for this population. Virginia's JLARC study of special education throughout the state from 2020 showcased numerous issues the state needs to address, and many of them remain unaddressed. Where is the accountability for VDOE to make the changes recommended by JLARC? Where is the specific, targeted support for students with disabilities? As a parent of a child with high support needs, I often feel my child is invisible to Virginia. VDOE's annual report on the state of education in Virginia didn't mention students like her - those on the adapted curriculum - once. Not once. Not once were students on the Applied Studies Diploma track mentioned. VDOE clearly communicated to parents like me that the only students Virginia cares about are those on the SOL track. My child matters. Her education matters. She has the potential to be a fully independent member of society as an adult, but that requires a level of interest in and commitment to students like her that Virginia does not provide at this time. Please change that. Thank you.