LDA Legislative News – April 2018

Federal Spending Up, But What’s Next?

Six months into federal Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018) Congress finally passed an omnibus appropriations bill to fund all federal programs and activities. Much to everyone’s surprise, especially after the president proposed an extremely austere budget, Congress reached an agreement that increased spending to levels not seen in quite a few years. The president now has expressed interest in rescinding – rolling back – some of the spending in the bill he already signed into law. What happens next? More…

As an example, education funding for the remainder of FY 2018, ending September 30, 2018, is at levels not seen since around 2010. The president proposed elimination of 29 education programs in his budget. Congress responded by eliminating only one program geared to train, recruit, and retain principals and school leaders and increasing a large percentage of other education programs.

Part B state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) received a 2.3% increase. More important, programs for preschoolers and infants and toddlers with disabilities were each increased for the first time after a number of years of static funding. Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment state grants also received increases.

Initially the president indicated he was considering vetoing the final FY 2018 bill, which as noted took half the fiscal year to negotiate. Ultimately he signed the bill, but now has suggested he wants Congress to reconsider and rescind some of the spending. Congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle have said they do not want to alter this hard-fought deal. It seems unlikely Congress will act to roll back any FY 2018 funding.

In February the president released his proposed budget for FY 2019, which begins on October 1, 2018. Again, the proposal would reduce spending for LDA priorities significantly. That budget was developed before the FY 2018 omnibus with its large increases was finalized, and the comparison is even more stark because of those increases.

With a major election in November, members of Congress will not want to attempt to pass anything controversial that they will have to defend to their constituents. This sets up once again the likely prospect of another Continuing Resolution, keeping the government open but not establishing the final FY 2019 funding levels until after the election or possibly into the next calendar year.

LDA monitors and weighs in on this process on an ongoing basis. We will keep you posted on the status of funding for critical LDA priority programs from employment and training to education, health, and the environment.

Impact Aid Under Voucher Threat

Many local school districts receive federal Impact Aid funds, in some instances covering as much as 40% of their budgets, where within their boundaries federally owned properties reduce the local tax base available to pay for education. Federal properties may include military installations, federal housing, and tribal land. There is a specific funding stream within Impact Aid for students with disabilities. Now an effort is underway to turn Impact Aid dollars into a federal school voucher program.

Heritage Action for America, the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, is leading an effort to use Impact Aid funds to allow military-connected families to set up Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), where funds could be used for any educational expenses including private school tuition. While Heritage Action says this would benefit military families, organizations representing that constituency – including the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America – are strongly opposing the effort to change the Impact Aid program.
LDA is on record opposing the use of federal education dollars for any non-public purposes, including school vouchers and education savings accounts. Specifically, LDA has joined with its partners in the National Coalition for Public Education (NCPE), a group dedicated to ensuring federal education dollars are used only for public schools, to oppose efforts to “voucherize” the Impact Aid program.

Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to provide ESAs to military families: Military Education Savings Account of 2018 (S. 2517, sponsor, Senator Sasse, R-NE; H.R. 5199, sponsor, Rep. Banks, R-IN). While this bill could be considered as freestanding legislation, there is also the concern it may be attached as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that funds the military which will be considered beginning at the end of April and is must-pass legislation.

In addition to its general opposition to use of public funds for private education, LDA is also particularly concerned about redirecting Impact Aid funds away from federally-connected students with disabilities. As noted, there is a specific program under Impact Aid that provides additional dollars to school districts for federally-connected children eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These funds are in addition to regular Impact Aid basic support funds and in addition to IDEA funds, and schools must use this money only to provide services to this population of students with disabilities.

LDA is participating actively in the coalition by informing members of Congress through direct visits to Capitol Hill and through constituent contacts about this legislation. This is an excellent example of how LDA joins with other national organizations to expand its voice on behalf of children and youth with learning disabilities.

Work Requirements May Affect Persons with Disabilities

On April 10, President Trump issued an Executive Order aiming to “reform the welfare system of the United States,” focusing on strengthening current work requirements and creating new ones where applicable.  The Order – Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility – directs the Secretaries of several federal Departments, including Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development, to review agency regulations and guidance for public assistance programs and report within 90 days on any recommended policy and regulatory changes to address work requirements.

While the Executive Order itself does not make any immediate changes, it comes on the heels of a recent change allowing states to impose work requirements on certain Medicaid beneficiaries.  A significant number of people participating in these safety net programs have disabilities that restrict their ability to engage in regular employment.

The Order calls for review of “federally funded workforce development programs,” with a goal of streamlining and consolidating some and eliminating others that are “ineffective.”  LDA is a strong proponent of workforce training and employment assistance programs.  Without knowing which programs might be affected, LDA is concerned programs supporting individuals with disabilities may be in the crosshairs.

Nine “Principles of Economic Mobility” are delineated in the Order as the new policy to reform the welfare system.  Principle #3 proposes to “address the challenges of populations that may particularly struggle to find and maintain employment” and cites individuals with disabilities as one of these groups.  However, there are no specifics about the intent or how these “challenges” would be addressed.  Another principle calls for review of “any public assistance programs…that do not currently require work for receipt of benefits or services” and determination of whether a work requirement would be consistent with federal law.  “Public assistance benefits” could include food stamps, housing programs, Medicaid, and a variety of other safety net programs.

LDA will be monitoring this process closely with its partners in the disability community.  Since individuals with disabilities represent a large percentage of recipients of these critical programs, any attempts to deny benefits could have extremely harmful effects on this population.

Show Your Appreciation to SISP!

April 16 -20 is National SISP Appreciation Week.  If you’re not familiar with that term, SISP stands for “specialized instructional support personnel.”  That term replaced “pupil services” when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was enacted and is the same group of people still known in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as “related services.”

When the IDEA comes up for reauthorization, the National Alliance of Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (NASISP) will push to have “related services” replaced by “SISP.”  NASISP wants all students to have appropriate supports, both in general and special education, and these are the personnel who can provide that extra help.

SISP include school counselors, psychologists, and social workers, school nurses, occupational and physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists, and creative arts therapists (art, dance, and music).  The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education has long held that any other “related services personnel” not specifically mentioned in the IDEA but whose services are deemed necessary by a student’s IEP team will be considered “related services” or SISP.

Representative Dave Loebsack (D-IA) has introduced a resolution in Congress to recognize the extraordinary work and contributions of these professionals.  NASISP is working with all members of Congress to ensure adequate funding is available for ESSA and IDEA to ensure SISP are available in all schools to support all students.

LDA hopes you will take the opportunity this week to thank these individuals who work tirelessly to support children and youth with learning disabilities to be successful in school and in life.

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