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Monday, January 17, 2011

Separate And Unequal: Christie on Autism Education

A popular "rock star" governor who sends his kids to private school is proposing special, county-wide schools for autistic children that will require many of them to be bused far from their hometowns, in a devious plan to encourage all but the poorest parents of autistic schoolchildren to flee the public special education system.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is considered a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate (he doth protest too much), proposes each county have specialized schools for children with autism which would replace the current system in which each town (of which there are 566 in New Jersey) has its own special education program for autistic and other special needs children. 

Under the veneer of concern, I believe there is a Machiavellian (ohhh, that word is so McGreevey, so Jersey) plot to nudge special education children -- especially autistic children -- out of the public school system. This is an attempt to discourage parents of special education children from using public services, by making those services as unattractive as possible.  The ultimate objective is to save on expenses by reducing the number of children using the services.  

Even worse, this follows earlier proposals to get charter schools -- entirely for-profit institutions funded with public, taxpayer dollars -- involved in special education. 

The sum and substance of these proposals seems to be a concerted effort to divert public funds for private profit, using special education privatization and public school centralization as the means to that end.

Let's explain our theory on how the special education county centralization is really designed to work -- putting aside the platitudes and statements that we are discounting for the reasons stated above. 

With each county having its special school, watch for where the schools are actually located.  Compare that with where the special education students come from.  Expect there will be a difference, a significant distance, enough to cause inconvenience and enough to compel or induce parents of special needs students to leave the public school system.

For example, an autistic child in Fairfield (Essex County) could end up in a county-wide school in, say, a blighted area of Newark where some urban planning genius may think a new school is needed -- that is, new jobs for the construction of a new building.  An autistic child from Haddonfield (Camden County) could be sent miles away from his Camden; maybe an autistic child from Holmdel (Monmouth County) gets sent to Asbury Park. An autistic child from Fort Lee (Bergen County) could be sent to, say, South Hackensack, or an autistic child from the tony waterfront of the Gold Coast in West New York or North Bergen (Hudson County) could be sent to a new school in the most high-crime area of Jersey City.  

You can almost hear the Christie Administration preparing the retort:  But we gave you a special school...what's your problem?!

The real problem, of course, will be the school's location, and the duration of the busing that an autistic child will have to endure to get to his special school that, ostensibly, is created for his benefit.  That child could be spending three hours a day on a school bus, instead of a five-minute walk or drive to his hometown's school.

If you're paying $10,000 in property taxes -- most of which go to public school costs -- how would having to bus your autistic child miles and miles to a county-wide school grab you?

There is little to nothing benign or helpful about this proposal.  This is an attempt to discourage parents of special education children from using public services, by making those services as unattractive as possible and inducing parents who have some capacity to pay private school tuitions (read: anyone above a state of being destitute) to avail themselves of those options.  Of course, such parents will still be required to pay their fair share of local property taxes ($10,000-20,000 in many towns), state income taxes and other various user fees, without having the audacity to expect anything back in return.

One could also suspect that the creation of county-wide schools would be meant as a method to diminish the scope of services -- and hence the manpower needs, patronage-dispensing abilities and political power -- of local/township school districts.  The political power would be redistributed to the counties, and you can bet there would be some control from the state.  View this as a redistribution of political power, not an elimination of political influence from the education of elementary school children and special needs children.  Far from it. 

Parents of autistic and other special needs children should be horrified by the practical, and unstated, implications of Christie's proposal.  Christie's message to parents of autistic and special education children is as follows:  Your tax dollars are welcome, but your kids' special needs problems are not our problem.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who is also admitted to the Bar of the State of New Jersey.  Mr. Dixon is a highly-experienced corporate lawyer who specializes in, among other things, election law, securities law compliance, complex litigation and complex investigative matters.  Mr. Dixon can be reached at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at


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