SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of the deaf community want lawmakers to know the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind provide services that school districts cannot.
Dan and Stephanie Mathias, both of whom are deaf, were among those who crowded a committee hearing Tuesday. They spoke to reporters through an American Sign Language interpreter after the meeting.
The Syracuse couple attended the meeting because their 10-year-old son is enrolled in the Jean Massieu School in Salt Lake City, part of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, which teaches both spoken language and American Sign Language.
Dan Mathias teaches at Davis Applied Technology College, and Stephanie Mathias is a mental health counselor. They adopted their son, who is deaf, from China.
They said having services from USDB is critical to their son's development. Dan grew up in Utah and was mainstreamed into his neighborhood school after fifth grade. Although he did well academically, he struggled socially.
Stephanie, who grew up in California, said her son needs to attend a school where "there is a common culture," where he can grow socially and where he can get a full curriculum that includes languages.
So news that the state Office of Education may cut the program has the Mathias family considering moving from Utah if it happens.
The Public Education Appropriations Committee heard presentations from several programs offered through the Utah Office of Education, including programs for students who are blind and/or deaf.
The committee has not cut any funds to the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and probably won't, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said after the meeting.
The state Board of Education met Friday and created two lists of cuts -- a round one and a round two, said state board member David Thomas, of South Weber.
Round one of cuts would eliminate $20 million in public education programs, including adult education and school nursing.
Round two would include eliminating the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. The USDB receives about $23 million a year from the general fund and serves about 2,000 students across the state.
Thomas said board of education members discussed the possibility of having school districts provide services for the deaf and the blind, instead of having a central location.
Legislators are not considering cutting the program, but cuts will be made to some education programs, said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, chairman of the committee.
He then asked committee members to prioritize which programs would receive funding. The committee had submitted a base budget for 2011-12 that reflected a 7 percent cut, plus $91 million that had not been allocated.
One of those programs that could be cut is the adult education program.
Pamela Atkinson, an advocate for the homeless and the poor, spoke on behalf of the adult education program, which receives $9.2 million a year. "Adult education is so essential in our state."
She said she has "seen lives turned around as (adults) get the basic education in reading, writing and math."
Adults enrolled in the program include those who dropped out of high school so they could get a job to help support their families, refugees who have never received any education and grandmothers who decide it's time to get a diploma before another grandchild does, Atkinson said.
Lawmakers asked if the program could be better served through applied technology colleges or through the work force.
Atkinson said when the state invests in adult education, it also invests in the state's economic development.