Next Tuesday, November 4 is election day, and an important part of voting is making informed decisions. In September, DSAA reached out to the candidates who are running for the offices of Governor, School Superintendent, Commissioner of Labor and U.S. Senator (Saxby Chambliss’ seat) for their policy statements on disability issues. We've gathered the responses we received as well as responses that some of our partners received. Please see below for the answers:
Georgia School Superintendent
Richard Woods, http://www.woodsforsuper.com/, firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie Wilson, http://valforeducation.com/; 404-665-7624; https://www.facebook.com/valforeducation; email@example.com
1) Do you support providing students with special needs the same academic, athletic and social opportunities offered to typically developing students? Why?
Richard Woods: Yes, though I believe that we as a state have made great strides in providing the same academic opportunities for our children with special needs, I do think additional progress needs to be made (see my plan in question #2). As we continue to provide and expand educational opportunities for our special needs students, we must begin to turn toward providing them with the same opportunities to get involved with the culture of the school -- clubs, sports, and other afterschool/extracurricular programs. Academics are only one half of the experience that education provides to our students and we must remember that all of our students -- including those with special needs -- benefit from the collaboration, communication, and leadership skills that students gain by being involved and truly part of a school. I plan on working with students, parents, educators, school counselors, district/school special education administrators, and special needs organizations to ensure that this is a top priority of my administration.
Valerie Wilson: I absolutely support providing our special needs students with the same academic, athletic and social opportunities that we provide to all students. Abilities come in all forms, and I 100 percent believe that each and every one of our babies deserves the opportunity to shine. For each child, that opportunity looks different, but if we aren't providing it, we aren't holding up the promise we made in the Georgia Constitution to every one of the more than 1.7 million children in our state to provide adequate quality educations. That promise should not discriminate, and neither will I as your next State School Superintendent.
2) Do you support post-secondary educational opportunities for those who have special needs? If so, what would you do to ensure students with special needs are prepared to enroll in such programs? If not, why?
Richard Woods: Yes. I am the only candidate for this office that has provided concrete actions to support Georgia's special needs students, such as:
- Looking at basing promotion requirements and high school graduation requirements on the goals listed in child's IEP
- Changing the Performance diploma so that students are counted as graduates and are not simply given a certificate of attendance and required to get a GED
- Reforming our testing model to one that is diagnostic in nature and provides real feedback to parents and students. Also, ensuring that students are able to receive the same accommodations/modifications on the state assessments that they receive in class
- Adopting a flexible curriculum (ex: looking at counting an Accounting class as math class or a Robotics class as a science class) that will provide relevance and build on the strengths/interests of our students
- Working with higher education agencies and organizations to ensure that a smooth transition and support/resources are provided to our special needs students
- Listening to the concerns and ideas of the special needs community and ensure and open line of effective communication
Valerie Wilson: Students with special needs are a key part of Georgia's workforce. Certainly, our Career and Technical Education (CTE) classes are a great fit, but ensuring that our offerings meet each student's individual needs is a key component to creating a vibrant and diverse workforce in Georgia. I've stated time and again that we rely too heavily on testing for our children, and this is especially relevant for our students with special needs. Under my leadership, I'll work with our State Board of Education to change the testing format. As a state, we must bring our parents, educators, students and community members to the table in a relevant way so that we can make sure that each child - and certainly those children with special needs - is represented fairly in our public education system.
Commissioner of Labor
Mark Butler, http://www.markbutler.org/; firstname.lastname@example.org; 770-833-9631
Robbin Shipp, http://www.robbinshippforlabor.com/; email@example.com; 404-683-2491
1) Do you support people with special needs having employment opportunities beyond sheltered workshops? If so, what would you do to help facilitate employment that offers competitive wages? If not, why?
Mark Butler: I'm a big supporter of supportive employment and I think as a State we should use it more. It allows individuals with all kinds of disabilities to work in many different environments. It also shows more people how valuable persons with disabilities are to the workforce of Georgia. As you know, Vocational Rehabilitation is no longer with the Dept. of Labor. However our marketing representatives are constantly educating and working with employers to hire more persons with disabilities. If you have any questions don't hesitate to reach out to me.
Robbin Shipp: I fully support full employment for our special needs community. As the parent of a special needs child, my daughter is ADD and on the Autism Spectrum; I want for her the same as I want for all Georgians; the opportunity to maximize their education and experience for a full and rewarding life and career.
Regrettably, the vocational rehabilitation program was removed from the Labor Commissioner's control in 2012. I will work with (hopefully) Gov. Carter to return these services to the Labor Department.
Governor and U.S. Senator
Georgia Counsel on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Questions and Answers (as printed in Making a Difference Magazine, Fall 2014 issue)
1. What ways would your administration enhance the resources available to people with disabilities in terms of employment, Medicaid expansion or waivers?
2. The unemployment rate is high for people with disabilities. How do you hope to address employment for people with disabilities?
3. One out of five or 20% of all Americans have some type of disability as an occurrence of birth, injury or longevity and most people are likely to have a loved one, neighbor or co-worker with a disability. Have you had personal ties to someone with a disability or the disability community? How does that affect your stand on policies?
Governor Nathan Deal (R) Incumbent
Governor Deal strongly supports ongoing work by the Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Dept. of Community Health (DCH) and the General Assembly to make inclusive community-based living a reality for all Georgians with disabilities. Being able to live in one’s own home, get a good job and be active contributors to our economy is, after all, central to the pursuit of the American Dream. That’s why Governor Deal’s budgets have included funding to increase access to Medicaid waiver services and supports that give Georgians with disabilities the tools they need to succeed and thrive.
Governor Deal emphasized during Disability Day at the Capitol this year – on the 15th anniversary of the Olmstead decision – we’re not done yet. He looks forward to continued input from the disability community, provi-ders, employers and families as we navigate complex issues in pursuit of a common goal: afford every Georgian, regardless of disability, the opportunity to live independently and pursue a career of their choosing.
Job creation is his number one priority as Governor, and supporting employment opportunities for Georgians with disabilities is a big part of that effort. Under Governor Deal’s leadership, Georgia has taken important steps to expand post-secondary inclusive education to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in a job. Recently, Kennesaw State University’s Academy for Inclusive Learning was bolstered with additional state funding and a new post-secondary inclusive education program at South Georgia’s East Georgia State College will open its doors to new students very soon.
Governor Deal has also tasked DBHDD’s work group dedicated to addressing barriers to employment for Georgians with disabilities to recommend how best the State can move forward with an Employment First Initiative.
State Senator Jason Carter (D) for Governor
The future I see for Georgia is one where nobody gets left out. That means that we have to do everything in our power to make sure that all people have access to opportunities to succeed.
Georgia can, and must do better serving its citizens with disabilities. In the last several years, the state government has drastically cut job training, counseling and rehabilitation programs that could be helping people with disabilities get jobs and gain independence. Today, Georgians with disabilities face a higher unemployment rate and greater poverty. As governor, I will make sure that we take advantage of every resource available to serve Georgians with disabilities.
U.S. Senate Candidate Michelle Nunn (D)
We must strive as a State and nation to empower all citizens and that starts with igniting economic opportunities and job growth, managing healthcare effectively, and providing accessible educational opportunities. All Georgians need access to affordable healthcare that meets their needs and that’s why it’s important that we expand Medicaid. Georgia’s Medicaid waiver program provides individuals with disabilities necessary support so they can live independently. We need to protect and broaden the accessibility of educational programs for those across the spectrum of developmental disability. Policy makers must continue to maintain and build upon the provisions of IDEA so that all individuals with disabilities can have the right to an equality of opportunity to be independent and achieve economic self-sufficiency. My hero and family friend Rafa San Miguel lost his hearing as an infant. He is a scientist at The Coca-Cola Company and the father of three boys. He is a Boy Scout leader, church leader, inventor, and in his spare time he teaches low-income kids about science with eye-popping experiments. He and his wife Betsy have inspired me to understand the opportunities associated with fully tapping into the talents of people with disabilities. I think we have a tremendous opportunity as a nation to ensure that we give all people who live with disabilities the chance to live out their unique and great talents and thereby enhance our communities, grow our economy and strengthen our nation.
U.S. Senate Candidate David Perdue (R)
I believe it is extremely important to ensure that all Georgians, especially those who are most vulnerable in our communities, have the resources and support they need to get good jobs to provide for themselves and their families. My wife Bonnie was a school teacher who helped children with disabilities and special needs. I also come from a family of educators and understand how important it is to work together to help more parents and children with special needs live happy, healthy and productive lives. As a United States Senator, I am determined to use my 40 years of business experience to help grow our economy and create more economic opportunity for everyone. Additionally, a strong vibrant economy is necessary to adequately fund our budget priorities.