April 9, 2012
Re:Please help fix L.D. 765
Dear Senator Courtney, Representative Cushing and members of the Joint Select Committee on Joint Rules:
Please contact your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and urge them to strike Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended. I am writing to you as members of the Joint Select Committee on Joint Rules because Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended has not had the benefit of an airing before any legislative committee with primary jurisdiction over services for Maine citizens who are blind.
If enacted, Section1 of L.D. 765 as amended would vastly expand the state of Maine’s responsibility for providing educational services to students who are blind and it would dramatically reduce vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind adults and transition-age youth because it would fund services for students by reallocating dollars, now appropriated for vocational rehabilitation and independent living services, to fund educational services for blind students. This reallocation of state funds would cause a loss of $4 of federal matching funds for each $1 of state funds reallocated.
Ironically, this is exactly the opposite result from that intended by the introduction of L.D. 765 in the first place. L.D. 765 was introduced last year by Representative Paul Davis as an appropriations bill to address a well-documented need for more resources to meet the specialized educational and rehabilitation needs of Maine citizens who are blind by providing funding for DBVI, part of the Bureau of Rehab Services within the Department of Labor. The funding initiatives in L.D. 765 as amended would cost $438,263 in the FY2013 budget.
By way of background, the need for additional educational and rehabilitation services for Mainers who are blind was documented in two reports both of which show that a critical funding shortage exists for educational and rehabilitation services in Maine for people who are blind. The first of these was the report of a public and private stakeholder working group established to review the current and future needs of blind or visually impaired individuals authorized by the Legislature through Resolve 2009, chapter 39, and the second was the report of the Maine Department of Education's corrective action plan work group in regard to Disability Rights Center v. Maine Department of Education dated July 28, 2010. Both these reports are available on The Iris Network’s website at
Last year L.D. 765 was unanimously identified by the L.C.R.E.D. committee as a high priority and was held over by the Appropriations Committee. The L.C.R.E.D. Committee held two work sessions on L.D. 765 this winter (most recently on February 10th) and, again, unanimously identified this bill as its top funding priority.
At the February 10th work session, a carefully crafted amendment (copy attached) was proposed by Representative Paul Davis, sponsor of L.D. 765. The proposed amendment had been crafted by staff at the Department of Labor with input from the Department of Education in an effort to eliminate waiting lists of blind students needing specialized services from Teachers of the Visually Impaired and Orientation and Mobility Instructors while maintaining vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for transition-age youth and adults who are blind.
The proposed amendment required that an administrative procedure (in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding) that has been in place between DBVI and DOE for many years be revised to establish a policy that students be served first by staff who serve both students and adults. Such an administrative rule was thought to be workable by DBVI, DOE and DOL staff, the professional community serving both students and adults and was strongly supported by the consumer community at the work session on February 10th.
At the February 10th work session, the L.C.R.E.D. Committee conducted a thorough discussion of the proposed amendment and caucused with both the Commissioner of Education and the Commissioner of Labor. After discussing the proposed amendment privately with both Commissioners, the L.C.R.E.D. committee unanimously voted that L.D. 765 as amended ought to pass. The Committee also wrote a strong letter of support to the Appropriations Committee (copy attached) and subsequently sent a Memorandum to the Appropriations Committee stating that L.D. 765 is the L.C.R.E.D. Committee’s only funding priority on the Special Appropriations Table this year.
When L.D. 765 as amended (copy attached) was distributed on the floor of the Legislature on March 2nd, however, the language addressing the administrative rule had radically changed. The reference to the Memorandum of Understanding between DBVI and DOE was changed to refer to DBVI’s enabling act.
No change to DBVI’s enabling act had been discussed publicly at the February 10th work session. This proposed change to DBVI’s enabling act would shift the responsibility for (and hence the cost of) providing specialized educational services for students who are blind from local schools to the State of Maine. Additionally, it would result in a disastrous loss of federal matching funds for vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind adults and transition-age youth.
If DBVI’s enabling act is changed as proposed in Section 1of L.D. 765 as now amended, DBVI would be required to reallocate funds from rehabilitation services to student services whenever inadequate resources exist to serve both students and adults. This would result in loss of $4 in federal matching funds for each $1 of state funds reallocated from vocational rehabilitation to educational services. For example, if $200,000 of funds now spent on vocational rehabilitation services for blind adults and transition-age youth is reallocated to provide educational services to blind students, the funding for vocational rehabilitation services will be reduced by $1 million dollars.
When this impact was pointed out to Commissioner Bowen, a memorandum was issued on April 2 (copy attached) stating that the reallocation of vocational rehabilitation funding to educational services was intentional. The memo continues to state that, because local schools have been unable to provide the level of educational services for blind students mandated by federal law, the State should assume the responsibility for providing these services. Furthermore, the memo states that this reallocation of resources from vocational rehabilitation services to educational services is necessary because “the state must ensure that BVI (sic) students receive the services to which federal law entitles them.” This conclusion is reached notwithstanding the fact that local schools, not the State of Maine, bear the responsibility for providing special education services. Finally, the memo does not address the fact that this reallocation of state resources will drastically diminish funding for vocational rehabilitation services by $5 for each $1 that is reallocated to educational services.
If it becomes law, the change to DBVI’s enabling act will fundamentally change the State of Maine’s responsibility for educating blind students. Currently, DBVI’s enabling act clearly states that DBVI exists both to provide vocational rehabilitation and independent living services for blind adults and transition-age youth, and to assist local schools to meet the specialized educational needs of blind students. If Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended becomes law, then DBVI’s responsibility will change from assisting schools in meeting their obligation to provide specialized educational services to blind students, to assuming the obligation for providing and paying for those services directly – an obligation (like the obligation to provide all other special education services) which now resides with local schools.
Neither the public policy decision to drastically reduce vocational rehabilitation services for blind adults and transition-age youth, nor the change in DBVI’s responsibility from that of assisting schools to serve blind students to assuming responsibility for educating blind students, has been discussed publicly by any legislative committee. These public policy decisions have enormous impacts on Maine citizens who are blind and should not be made without a full airing before a legislative committee with primary jurisdiction. Consequently, please contact your colleagues on the Appropriations Committee and ask them to strike Section 1 of L.D. 765 as amended.
Thank you for taking time to consider this request. Please let me know if you have questions, or if I can provide any additional information that would be helpful to you as you consider these important public policy issues.
Very truly yours,
S/James E. Phipps, MBA/JD
Executive Director, The Iris Network
Cc: Members of the Committees on Appropriations and Financial Affairs and L.C.R.E.D., sponsors of L.D. 765, Commissioners of DOL and DOE, Director of DBVI, Director of the Education Services for Blind Children’s Program and the Executive Director of Catholic Charities Maine, Chair of the SRC to DBVI, Presidents of ACB of Maine, NFB of Maine, NAPVI/Maine and Pine Tree Guide Dog Users