February 2016 Newsletter
Please circle these dates on your calendar for this week:
On Friday, Feb. 26, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., I will be hosting a Senior Scam Stopper Town Hall at the Addison Penza Jewish Community Center of Silicon Valley, 14855 Oka Road, Los Gatos. Law enforcement officials and others will guide you to avoid identity theft, auto repair scams, and financial investment crimes. To learn more, click here.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., I am conducting a pancake breakfast at the Quinlan Community Center, 10185 N. Stalling Road, Cupertino. Joining me will be Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, who will be giving his thoughts about the future of public education. To RSVP, click here, or contact Alex Wara, (408) 558-1295.
MENTAL HEALTH CARE AND STUDENTS
During my career, I've long made access to mental health care a priority. A mental illness that impairs intelligence and behavior is just as grave as a disease that afflicts the body. When dealing with mental illness, as with any disease, early intervention significantly improves outcomes.
The earlier in life that a patient is given treatment, therapy, and the coping techniques that are necessary to function in a 21st century society, the better off they are - and so are we. We'll see reductions in homelessness and incarceration related to untreated mental illness that can translate into public cost savings we can plow into our colleges, schools, and social service programs.
Many times children with developmental disabilities or mental illnesses, such as bipolar, depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorders, aren't diagnosed until they attend school.
Under statute, school districts are responsible for providing students mental health services when it interferes with their ability to learn. The services are tailored to a student's needs. Those services are stipulated in an Individualized Education Program, or IEPs, a written plan created in concert by counselors, school officials, and the student's parent.
But, many parents have told me that their special education student did not receive the services promised in their IEP or that the IEP was changed without with their knowledge.
At my request, the State Auditor's Office sampled selected school districts up and down the state to evaluate their delivery of services. The auditors, however, were hindered by a lack of documentation. Without sufficient tracking and analysis of graduation and drop-out rates special education students with IEPs, the auditors were unable to determine the performance and efficiency of the school districts.
The audit also found that none of the surveyed districts could account for how much money had been spent in providing mental health services. The audit also said that in some cases, school districts had "removed mental health services from students' IEPs ... but could not explain why services were removed."
I am troubled that we cannot ascertain whether schools are effectively providing mental health services. Are the students in special education getting the mental health services they are entitled to under the law? Are the services working? How are taxpayer dollars being spent?
At a Select Committee on Mental Health hearing I convened, officials for school district that were chosen to be audited told me they can accurately account for every dollar spent by their programs and have documented outcomes.
Nevertheless, the audit raised fundamental questions about the system's overall accountability and effectiveness. As a result, I introduced SB 884, requiring all school districts to track the progress of students with IEPs so we can understand whether the system is actually helping students as intended.
The bill's ultimate goal is increase the system's responsiveness to students and increase access to much needed services. My hope is that the first day a student or his or her parents walk into a school office seeking help that they are able to leave confident the student will be given competent care and services.
COLLEGE FINANCIAL AID DEADLINE
The March 2 deadline to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, also known as FAFSA, is just around the corner. This document must be completed and submitted in order for college students to determine their eligibility for financial aid.
To learn more about the process of applying for financial aid, I recommend you attend free Cash for College workshops, sponsored by the California Student Aid Commission. To find a workshop in your area, click here.
FREE TAX PREPARATION HELP
The federal Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program assists people with household incomes of $54,000 or less prepare and electronically file a basic tax return for free. To find a VITA site near you, click here. Some VITA sites may require an appointment.
Be sure to bring:
- A valid photo identification
- Social Security card or Individual Taxpayer ID Number for all individuals to be listed on the return.
- All 2015 income statements - W-2s, 1099s, Social Security income, etc.
- Bank account number and routing number for direct deposit or debit.
- Receipts for child care and the provider's identification number.
- Tuition fees and expenses - 1098-Ts, receipts, etc.
- Landlord's name, phone number, and address to receive the California Renter's Credit.
- Health care-related documents - Form 1095-A, receipts for unreimbursed costs.
- Copy of the prior year's tax return, if possible.