LDA Legisative News – April 2015

downloadBipartisan ESEA Bill Developed in Senate Committee

On April 16 by a unanimous vote, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind).  The product of many months of negotiation between Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), the Every Child Achieves Act maintains the core of the ESEA while giving States greater flexibility in implementation.  

While both Alexander and Murray acknowledge the bill does not comport completely with what either would have wanted, they agree this is a solid effort that moves the process forward.  Committee members introduced 87 amendments before finally passing the bill, allowing a good debate on issues ranging from assessment and accountability to educator training and student support services.

The bill reflects the difference in philosophy between Republican and Democratic leadership regarding the federal role in education policy. The bill maintains the current annual testing requirements in reading and math, grades 3 through 8, and once in grades 9 through 12.  It also maintains the need for academic standards and an accountability system.  However, the current accountability system – "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) – is eliminated, and standards, assessment choices, and accountability for student progress would be determined by the States.  In addition, States would still be required to identify low performing schools, but the percentage of schools identified and the types of interventions used to help those schools would also be State decisions. 

Regarding students with disabilities, the requirements continue that those students are included in general education curriculum, standards, and testing.  The bill codifies the current ESEA regulations regarding alternate assessments based on alternate education standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities, including a 1 percent cap on the number of students that can be assessed in this manner. 

In a number of places, the bill references training on and the use of "multi-tiered systems of support," defined somewhat differently than how "response to intervention" has been characterized.  MTSS is defined as "a comprehensive continuum of evidence-based, system-wide practices to support a rapid response to academic and behavioral needs, with frequent data-based monitoring for instructional decision-making."  In most sections where MTSS is mentioned, the bill also includes "positive behavioral interventions and supports" and "early intervening" coordinated with services under the IDEA early intervening provision.  There is also solid language about training teachers and other school personnel in instructing students with disabilities, including the use of appropriate accommodations.

Title IV, "Safe and Healthy Students," has less specific language and targeted funding than the current law regarding mental health and counseling services for students.  The bill proposes a formula grant program, with a required community-based needs assessment, and a broad array of allowable uses of funds. Program effectiveness is judged by whether the programs "improve school safety and promote students’ physical and mental health and well-being, healthy eating and nutrition, and physical fitness; and strengthen parent and community engagement to ensure a healthy, safe, and supportive school environment."

Finally, the bill has a much greater emphasis on early education programs.  While ESEA funds have always been available for early learning activities, the limited funds have not generally been used for those purposes.  This bill makes explicit in Titles I, II (training and professional development for teachers and school leaders), and III (programs for English learners) that funds may be used for early childhood education programs.

Alexander and Murray are urging Senate leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote before the Memorial Day recess.  Whether that schedule can be met is dependent on what other issues the Senate must address in addition to ESEA.  Senators will have another opportunity when the bill reaches the floor to amend the bill further.

A partisan bill passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in early February, and consideration began in the full House.  The bill was pulled from the floor before a final vote was taken, and currently there is no date scheduled to continue debate.

LDA is monitoring the process closely and will keep you informed each month through the Legislative News.

 

workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-actPublic Comments Solicited on Proposed WIOA Regulations

The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor have issued five Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), soliciting public comment on draft regulations to implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  WIOA was passed in July 2014 to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, the first time the law has been updated in 15 years.  WIOA also reauthorized the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and amended the Rehabilitation Act.  WIOA focuses on increased access to and opportunities for employment, education, training, and support services that will enable individuals to succeed in the labor market.

The proposed regulations align closely with the principles outlined in Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity (July 2014), a report developed under the leadership of Vice President Biden.  The report called for greater coordination and more strategic use of federal resources, better information for job seekers, and inclusion of business leaders to ensure training matches workforce needs.

Public comments on the five NPRMs are due on or before June 15, 2015 and must be submitted at www.regulations.gov.  Following is a summary of those announcements and links to the proposed language, which also include the specifics on how to submit comments.

  • Unified and Combined State Plans, Performance Accountability, and the One-Stop System Joint Provision: The proposal, issued jointly by  the Departments of Labor and Education, would strengthen the alignment of the workforce development system’s six core programs administered by the two departments. It would impose requirements related to unified strategic planning at the State level, common performance accountability measures, and the one-stop delivery system. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/16/2015-05528/workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-act-joint-rule-for-unified-and-combined-state-plans-performance
  • Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA): Offered by the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, this proposed regulation would implement changes to programs authorized under AEFLA (Title II of WIOA). https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/16/2015-05540/programs-and-activities-authorized-by-the-adult-education-and-family-literacy-act-title-ii-of-the
  • State Vocational Rehabilitation Services program; State Supported Employment Services program; Limitations on Use of Subminimum Wage: Drafted by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), this proposed rule would implement changes authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Title IV of WIOA). WIOA included changes to the State Vocational Rehabilitation Services program, the State Supported Employment Services program, and provisions in new Section 511 related to the Limitations on the Use of Subminimum Wages. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/16/2015-05538/state-vocational-rehabilitation-services-program-state-supported-employment-services-program
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Miscellaneous Program Changes: OSERS has also proposed regulations to implement changes to other Rehabilitation Act programs administered by the Department of Education, including Client Assistance, American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights, Independent Living Services for Older Individuals Who Are Blind programs, and the discretionary grant programs authorized under Title III of the Rehabilitation Act. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/16/2015-05535/workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-act-miscellaneous-program-changes
  • Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Finally, the Department of Labor has proposed regulations to conform changes to the adult, dislocated worker and youth formula programs; the State and local workforce development boards; the designation of regions and local areas; local plans; the one-stop system; national programs; and, Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker programs. The proposed rules also would implement changes related to employment services and workforce and labor market information systems and requires the Secretary of Labor to establish a Workforce Information Advisory Council. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/04/16/2015-05530/workforce-innovation-and-opportunity-act-notice-of-proposed-rulemaking#addresses

 

chemtesting_hdrSenate Toxic Chemicals Bill Falls Short

In March Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, with the intention of addressing concerns about regulation of toxic chemicals. LDA, through its Healthy Children Project, is a strong proponent of policies that regulate the use of and exposure to toxic chemicals, especially among pregnant women and children.  However, the organization is urging its members to seek real reform, rather than the approach in the Udall-Vitter bill which LDA and its partner organizations believe falls far short of meaningful public health protection. 

Opponents of the bill say the legislation would slow or stop States from enacting their own laws to control harmful chemicals.  In the last ten years, disclosure or restriction by States of certain toxic chemicals in consumer products has led companies to remove or restrict these chemicals nationwide.  In other words, consumers across the country have benefited from these State actions.  In fact, several States attorneys general have come out against this bill for just this reason.

While the pace of chemical reviews by the Environmental Protection Action (EPA) has been slow, in fact in some instances slower than State action, it is not necessary to eliminate State action in order to bolster action by the EPA. Simply put, LDA and its partners believe the bill should be amended so States are not blocked from acting until and unless the EPA has taken action to restrict a toxic chemical. 

LDA is supporting efforts that would maintain States' rights to protect families from toxic chemicals, ensure proof of chemicals' safety before use in products, and specific protections for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children.  For more information and how you can be involved in this issue, go to http://saferchemicals.org/.

 

OsersOSERS Clarifies IDEA Dispute Resolution Procedures

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), U.S. Department of Education, has issued guidance for States, school districts, parents, and other stakeholders to assist in deciding how to follow the IDEA dispute resolution procedures.  This guidance was issued after OSERS became aware that some school districts may be filing due process complaints on the same issue that is the subject on an ongoing State complaint, "ostensibly to delay the State complaint process and force parents to participate in, or ignore at considerable risk, due process complaints and hearings."

The guidance outlines the due process complaint procedures, the mediation process, and State complaint procedures.  The letter clarifies the Department's longstanding position that a State "may not refuse to resolve a parent's State complaint challenging a public agency's eligibility determination or....alleging a denial of FAPE through its complaint resolution procedures even if the State complaint concerns a matter that could also be the subject of a due process complaint.  This is true even if the State believes that the parent should file a due process complaint against the local educational agency or that a due process hearing is a more appropriate mechanism to resolve such disputes" (OSEP Memo 13-08, B-7). 

OSERS concludes that school districts who force parents into "potentially more adversarial" due process hearings harm the "cooperative process" that is the overarching principle of the due process system. In addition, Congress made clear in the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA that procedures such as mediation and the resolution session enacted in that legislation represent more positive and constructive means to settle disputes.  The memo notes parents' choice to opt for the State complaint process rather than a due process hearing should be respected; however, before going to a due process hearing, the school district should attempt to settle disagreements through informal procedures such as mediation.  

The full text of the guidance letter is available at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/dcl04152015disputeresolution2q2015.pdf. 

 

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