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The state health agency plans to close three Eastern North Carolina offices that provide services for developmentally disabled infants and toddlers, a move that will eliminate an estimated 170 state jobs by July.

Documents obtained by N.C. Policy Watch show that budget cuts prompted the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Early Intervention Program to call for the closure of three children’s developmental services agencies in New Bern, Rocky Mount and Wilmington.

The state agency will expand an existing contract with East Carolina University’s School of Medicine to continue providing services to families in the 21 affected counties, according to a Feb. 10 strategic plan written by Dr. Robin Cummings, the state’s acting health director, and obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

ECU already has a contract with DHHS to provide early intervention services for several counties in the Greenville area.

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In a letter released this week, the U.S. Department of Justice affirmed that Wisconsin must ensure that students with disabilities who seek to attend or are currently enrolled in private schools through the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher program “do not encounter discrimination on the basis of their disabilities.” Hat tip to Diane Ravitch for highlighting this news today on her blog.

“The state cannot, by delegating the education function to private voucher schools, place students beyond the reach of the federal laws that require Wisconsin to eliminate disability discrimination in its administration of public programs,” DOJ officials wrote in the letter to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Tony Evers. The letter goes on to clearly spell out how Wisconsin must make efforts to ensure that their school choice program comply with Title II federal regulations.

The ACLU and other Wisconsin-based organizations filed a complaint with DOJ in 2011 alleging that students with disabilities were discriminated against in Milwaukee’s voucher schools.

The ruling will have a far-reaching impact as voucher programs in 20 states will be required to monitor their programs for compliance with federal laws protecting the disabled.

North Carolina is on track to introduce its own voucher program in the state with Rep. Stam’s HB 944, Opportunity Scholarship Act. The bill has not yet been heard in committee, but if and when it is, it seems certain that lawmakers will be asked to consider the plan’s potential conflicts with Title II federal regulations, given this week’s ruling. As it stands now, there is no mention of students with disabilities in the bill’s eligibility requirements.

In case you missed it, a wide array of North Carolina advocates signed on to a letter yesterday from the Washington, DC-based Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. The letter urges Governor Perdue to address the state’s ongoing violation of federal law in its treatment of thousands of people with mental illness by warehousing them in so-called “adult care homes” by working with advocates rather than fighting them.

You can read the letter by clicking here.

Let’s hope the Guv gets the message.