Court to Schools: Budget Nursing Care for Disabled Children

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The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision Wednesday that is bound to unsettle school boards around the country. By a 7-2 vote, the justices ruled that a federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which seeks to provide disabled students access to a public school education, requires school districts to pay for extensive one-on-one continuous nursing care for those children who need it while in school. The case involves a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, high school sophomore who is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic and requires a ventilator.

"This decision will come as a blow to school districts whose budgets are already terribly strained as it is, " says Washington correspondent Ann Blackman. Many districts, she says, are "trying to put their limited resources into improved teacher salaries," and the added burden that this decision imposes on their cash-strapped budgets will not be welcome. "Everyone sympathizes with the trauma of families who must raise disabled children," says Blackman. But many taxpayers also wonder why Congress continues to impose obligations on localities without providing adequate funds to carry them out. The Supreme Court seemed to say as much in its ruling: "The district may have legitimate financial concerns, but our role in this dispute is to interpret existing law." This case has all the earmarks of an issue that Congress may want to revisit, says Blackman.