Dear Rep. Rokita,
Since you refuse to hold a town hall, I’m taking to the Internet to get your attention.
My name is Meganne Masko. I am a mom. A mom who believes in public education and the important roles public schools play in the lives of children all over the country. You might know my name from the many phone calls and messages I’ve sent you. You never respond to those calls and messages, so you may not know that I call you almost every day.
In 2000, my husband and I welcomed an amazing son into the world. It was a terrible pregnancy, there had been worries about a serious genetic defect known as Trisomy 13. We had numerous appointments with neonatologists and genetics experts, an amniocentesis, and multiple scans. He was genetically fine, but something was clearly not right when he was born.
His pediatrician noticed that his startle reflex appeared to be overactive, but tests revealed nothing out of the ordinary. He was sensitive to touch, sight and sound, and he had difficulty feeding. At 9 months of age, his doctor told me that my son, our son, was at risk for being developmentally delayed. A series of assessments and meetings with therapists and social workers followed, and he was enrolled in physical therapy and speech/language therapy. He needed to work with a feeding specialist because he couldn’t tolerate age appropriate food in his mouth. Consequently, he was underweight, failing to thrive. He would need a feeding tube if we couldn’t get him to tolerate food. My husband and I owned our own business and did not have insurance. Thankfully, our boy qualified for a Medicaid waiver program because of his failure to thrive. Medicaid and the Birth to Three program (also known as Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) paid for his therapies so we didn’t go completely bankrupt caring for him.
Over time, it became clearer and clearer that he was not developing typically. He would build these large, elaborate piles of toys, pillows, clothes, and anything else he could find in the living room. He did that every day. He could only wear one kind of clothes, tolerate one kind of bed sheet, and he had a terrible time sleeping. He would scream whenever there was a loud sound, sometimes clamping his hands over his ears to block out the noise. He would have meltdowns that could last for hours if you violated his daily routine in any way.
At the age of 3, we took our beautiful child for a comprehensive evaluation at the University of Iowa Centers for Disability and Development. At the end of a very long day of testing, we heard that our son was on the Autism Spectrum. He needed even more therapy and assistance. Because of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, our son was able to receive the services he needed through the public schools in our area. He worked with a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a special education teacher, and others.
The therapies provided to our son through Medicaid and Part C of the IDEA changed the course of his life and ours. He learned to sign and then talk. He learned to eat and then grew strong. His sensory issues were managed, which meant his brain could focus on learning how to read and write. He made friends and developed personal interests. He continued to access services through public schools until he was in 4th grade. That’s when we made the decision to discontinue his last remaining official support and withdraw his Individualized Education Plan (or IEP). He has not needed one since.
Our son is Autistic. Proudly so. He is also an honors student who wants to go to business school at IU and maybe even become a lawyer. He is an athlete, a musician, a friend. He has a job and contributes to the economy. He is happy, healthy, and productive because of amazing public schools, special education law, and Medicaid programs.
My request of you, Mr. Rokita, is that you oppose efforts like HR 899 which would terminate the Department of Education, and HR 610 which would take tax dollars from public schools and redistribute them in the form of vouchers (as well as eliminate nutrition standards for school lunches). We need our public schools. Our children need our public schools. Our democracy needs our public schools.
Three separate studies on voucher programs indicated that, contrary to what Betsy DeVos and Todd Rokita think, students who use vouchers to attend private schools actually attain lower levels of achievement on standardized tests than do children who attend public schools. The most recent study to show that students in voucher programs do worse on measures of achievement was published by conservative think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and funded by the Walton Family Foundation, both of which support voucher programs. Even the people who support these programs know they don’t work.
Again, I say to you, Mr. Rokita, focus on supporting public schools and the children who attend them rather than dismantling this important public good. My son, and millions of children, benefit from quality public educations, and I frankly don’t want to see my tax dollars used to undermine the intellectual capacity of future generations of American voters.
Mom and registered voter