SpEd deserves its own budget
It was reported that special education (SpEd) received zero budget in the 2023 National Expenditure Program, despite the Deparment of Education’s (DepEd) proposal for a P532-million SpEd budget. While DepEd has gone out of its way to assure that “this is a recurring circumstance every year, and DepEd is not at a loss because [they] always work with members of Congress to find other ways to fund DepEd programs,” this is cold comfort as it means that SpEd services haven’t been guaranteed to have their own budget this whole time. With people outraged and clamoring for SpEd to get its rightful priority in our national budget, you would think that DepEd would welcome this wave of support for SpEd services and ally with the public to finally get SpEd its seat at the table. Instead, the press release of DepEd seemed to be designed to chastise those who were critical of the budget, and prioritized defending their own department rather than recognizing how SpEd doesn’t get enough resources.
Working at a public university, I’ve been witness to budget negotiations and having to fight for projects and programs year in and year out. Not having a dedicated line item in a budget means having to defend your program every single time, with no guarantee that there will be replenished resources the following year. Yes, DepEd may be used to hustling for SpEd resources, but that is strenuous energy being expended year after year that could have been diverted to other education concerns if SpEd resources were already assured. Not having a dedicated budget for a program also limits the ability to develop long-term SpEd programs or to plan for upscaling services and interventions. No security of funds also means that employees within these programs can’t be assured of a stable career and would think twice about investing their efforts. While DepEd can be creative and look for extra pesos here and there from other budgets, the lack of security in SpEd’s funding will inevitably stunt the program’s growth.
Supporting a student with specific needs requires a network of services and providers. As our public education system is constrained to a huge teacher-student ratio, it is all the more important that students with specific needs have access to an individualized education plan to ensure that they are getting their learning needs met that cannot be addressed within a traditional classroom. As such, a strong SpEd program should be able to cater to a variety of learning concerns and challenges, which means being able to offer a wide range of services and programs with a deep bench of trained specialists and providers. You can imagine that this will require a lot of money and other resources. In a genuine “no child left behind” policy, SpEd programs play a central role in ensuring that every student gets to learn effectively. A good SpEd program also ensures that students with specific needs can still be “mainstreamed,” meaning that we can minimize segregation and have them continue to access other aspects of the school experience: being part of the student community, enjoying classes with others, and being part of all the activities that schools can offer. Having a teacher’s aide or a behavioral aide, for example, allows the student to attend regular classes while being given extra support and coaching. There are also technological aids, such as note-taking devices or voice output communication devices, that can help remove obstacles to learning such as language and attention difficulties.
SpEd deserves government attention and resources because this reduces socioeconomic inequity. Any parent or family with a child with specific needs knows how costly it is to provide a tailored, enriched environment for their child. A child with significant neurodevelopmental disability would be typically referred to a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychotherapy. This is already on top of specialized medical care from a developmental pediatrician and possibly medication. In some cases, they will need to hire a full-time behavior aide to help with the child’s daily activities. They would also need to be enrolled in schools that have a strong SpEd program, which tends to be very expensive. Since most of these services are private and out-of-pocket, only rich families can afford to help their child overcome their challenges. This leaves much needed services out of reach for most Filipino families, and their children will not be able to reach their full potential. Developing a strong public SpEd program goes a long way in ensuring that these vital services remain accessible to all, regardless of their financial situation.
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