I wrote a few days ago about the U.S. Justice Department report blasting the deplorable conditions in Texas schools for the disabled. Now the Dallas Morning News has a front-page article discussing the possibility of improving state schools by closing some schools and concentrating resources in the remainder. Here are excerpts from the article:
For the first time in 15 years, the stars seem aligned for advocates of closing some of Texas’ state schools for the disabled. The only thing missing is a lawsuit.
A threatening Department of Justice letter details civil rights violations across the state’s dozen institutions, which care for the mentally disabled and some with physical disabilities. A report from Texas budget officials recommends downsizing the system. And a popular moderate legislator vows to carry their politically sensitive bill.
But the last time Texas shuttered state schools – two of them, in the mid-1990s – it took a class-action lawsuit over conditions inside the institutions.
In the last three decades, Texas lawmakers have rarely overhauled any broken systems without enduring costly legal action – on abusive prisons, underfunded school districts or inadequate children’s health care.
Advocates for closing state schools say people with disabilities are safer and better served in the community, where they can receive personalized medical attention, be closer to their families and live independently.
Many people with relatives inside the state schools flatly disagree, saying the facilities provide the around-the-clock care and structure that Texans with profound disorders and complicated diagnoses require.
BACKGROUND: TEXAS STATE SCHOOLS
- The population in Texas’ state schools for the disabled has declined by more than 50 percent since 1980, a result of the desire of residents to live in less restrictive settings. The current population – about 4,600 – is expected to drop by 100 residents in each of the next five years.
- It costs an average of $125,500 per year to care for someone in a state school, compared with $63,500 for someone in a community group home. However, the increased medical needs of some state school residents account for some of the difference.
- The Department of Aging and Disability Services requested $80 million for 2010-11 for state school facilities to improve roofs, heating and air conditioning and to replace old and damaged equipment.
- In 2007, there were 20 Texans per 100,000 living in large state institutions for the disabled, compared with 12 per 100,000 in the entire U.S. Ten states have closed large state institutions for the disabled altogether.
- Between 1999 and 2007, spending on state schools went up each year, increasing more than $160 million overall despite a population that shrank by 413 people.
- Barriers to moving state school residents into the community include limited housing options and a lack of health-care providers who can serve medically fragile clients.