Senators are shameless if they don’t fully fund GDOE, especially for the benefit of kids with special needs

Remember how senators were tripping all over themselves to gift pay raises throughout GovGuam with our money? Or how legalizing fireworks and then regulating fireworks became their biggest priority? About every three months they make it an emergency to flock into session so they can be our power bill heroes and use our money to give us discounts on our GPA bills.

Imagine my disgust when listening to senators – who have failed from the inception of GovGuam to properly fund and prioritize public education – pass the buck onto Guam Department of Education officials, accusing them of not prioritizing special education for kids with special needs.

These are some of the most vulnerable citizens we have. They are the ones who need accommodations, routed access, and intense interventions so they can be as close to self-reliant and self-governing as they can be in adulthood. Some of these kids will never be able to support themselves financially, much less drive to a job or even a clinic. Their parents worry about dying, not for the reasons the rest of us may worry, but because they dread what will happen to their children when they’re gone.

We need to stop pretending that our brothers and sisters who deal with physical, emotional, mental, and developmental disabilities live on another plane of existence. And we absolutely need to stop electing people who do not make the standard of care in policymaking one that recognizes the happiness and self determination of citizens living with disabilities as the benchmark of progress for all.

GDOE for decades has been underfunded. That underfunding has snowballed from insufficient classroom resources that curtailed learning to underpaid teachers who left, creating crowding and safety issues to school campuses falling apart. There is perhaps no greater testament to the legislature’s failure to prioritize public education than the daily magistrates reports amounting to hundreds of new criminals each year, fresh from their failings as students in a system that has never been able to catch up.

Senators recently have pointed to substantial funds GDOE has received because of the pandemic. They wave it like it’s a magic wand over decades of legislative ineptitude and neglect.

At an April 9, 2024 legislative oversight hearing, the issue of a lack of one-to-one aides for students with special needs was brought to the attention of senators (as though they didn’t already know that was a problem). Senators for so long – and this really is a reflection of us in the public – have relied on what’s known as the consolidated grant (a series of federal grants that GDOE gets from the U.S. Department of Education for specific programs) in order to fund what we taxpayers should have funded long ago. Among the programs is special education.

This annual influx of federal funds has allowed all of us to look the other way as senators were able to fund other parts of the government, like pay raises and political hires, rents to cronies, contracts to supporters, etc. I digress.

I was disgusted three and a half hours into the hearing when I heard Joanne Brown, a long time senator who has held office since the early 1990s, pass off the major problem of GDOE’s lack of sufficient numbers of one-to-one aides to GDOE.

“This is just a question of priorities, and what does the Department of Education determine their priorities to be,” Ms. Brown said in response to GDOE assistant superintendent for special education Tom Babauta informing her that the agency does not have the money to sustain the program at even basic levels. “It’s a question of priority for DOE,” she dug in further.

Is it not a question of priority for the legislature?

“Guys a lot of these things you’re bringing to us are internal management issues that can be prioritized within the Department of Education,” she went on to say. Except, the continuous and haphazard lack of local funding is not a GDOE internal management issue. It is clearly and unequivocally a legislative matter that only the legislature can resolve.

Ms. Brown is speaking on this issue as though she has not been part of the problem since the Twenty Third Guam Legislature, elected in 1994, when then the problem of graduation rates and teacher pay and learning standards was rearing. She’s been part of the legislature – serving several years in a powerful republican majority throughout the late 1990s into the turn of the century – when the facilities dilapidation problem was in its infancy.

Joanne Brown

And she’s going to pass this latest problem off on people at GDOE who just started their careers there within the last few years? She’s not going to take any responsibility for this? She won’t even offer a commitment of funding support from this greater-than-one billion dollar GovGuam budget?

Among Ms. Brown’s more ridiculous ideas for solutions is to cut “a few administrators,” at GDOE. How about we cut useless agencies? Senatorial staff? Senators’ salaries? Funding those things is less of a priority to me than funding one-to-one aides and learning materials for children with special needs.

It is literally your job, senators, to budget our tax dollars toward the priority funding needs of the government. It isn’t GDOE’s job to create money or to appropriate tax dollars. Sure, maybe they can carve out some savings from efficiencies in process. It would be nominal. Sure, maybe they can repurpose some of the one-time pandemic era grants they got to help fund this year’s needs for special education. But what about the annual costs for next year and the year after?

This is a legislative budget issue. This is about prioritizing spending through legislative order. This is about whether Joanne Brown and these other senators give a damn about some of the most vulnerable children we have.

If we can’t take care of these kids, we’d all better stop pretending that we belong to some beautiful and loving culture.


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