LDA Legislative News – January 2019

116th Congress Brings New Champions

As reported after the 2018 midterm elections, there are significant changes in the 116th Congress.  First, the majority shifted to the Democrats in the House of Representatives.  Second, the Republican majority in the Senate increased slightly.  However, more important to LDA, there are some new members with histories that make them possible champions for individuals with learning disabilities.

The best way to influence and educate members of Congress – and local and state legislators – is to build good relationships early on and nurture those connections.  Readers will find below a list of new members who have specific background or experience in issues related to advocating for and supporting individuals with disabilities.  There are a number of other new members on both sides of the aisle who support more funding for K-12 and higher education, have interests in issues such as mental health services, career-technical education, job training and apprenticeship programs, and disrupting the school to prison pipeline, or have been or have family members who are educators.

Members with disability-specific platforms, interest, and/or experience include:

  • Greg Stanton (D-AZ): Sister is a special education teacher.
  • Katie Hill (D-CA): Has several family members with disabilities, and supports full funding of IDEA.
  • Gil Cisneros (D-CA): Supports right to independent living for individuals with disabilities.
  • Angie Craig (D-MN): Has son with learning disabilities, and mother and wife were teachers.
  • Pete Stauber (R-MN): Has teenage son with Down Syndrome.
  • Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ): Sponsored several bills in state legislature on instructing students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
  • Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH): Supports having a trained mental health professional in every school.
  • Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA): Led two class action suits to enforce rights of students with disabilities; served on two statewide commissions charged with implementing the IDEA.
  • Colin Allred (D-TX): Concerns include closing achievement gaps for students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners.
  • Jennifer Wexton (D-VA): Got state laws passed on extended parental support for youth over age 18 with significant disabilities.

For any readers who have one of these members as their Representatives, LDA would be pleased to work with you to initiate a conversation with those offices.  LDA members’ advocacy is critical to ensuring strong legislative solutions that support children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities.

Juvenile Justice Bill Crosses Finish Line

With the support of LDA, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection Act (JJDPA) was reauthorized on December 13, 2018. Initially passed in 1974 and most recently reauthorized in 1992, the JJDPA establishes common state and federal standards for the treatment of youth in the criminal justice system. A high proportion of inmates in both the juvenile and adult justice systems are individuals with learning disabilities, with estimates ranging from 10 to 40%, and up to 60% with disabilities in general  Therefore, this legislation is very important to LDA members.

Title V of the Act has been amended to provide Youth PROMISE grants for tutoring and remedial education services with a primary focus on reading and math, mental health services, and youth leadership development programs that will empower and build confidence in struggling young people.  The Charles Grassley Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Program appears in Title II of the Act.  This program supports “data-driven, evidence-based” prevention programs. State plans must consider scientific knowledge regarding adolescent development and behavior and must include prevention and intervention programs. Each state’s plan must be made available to the public on its website.

The law provides protections for youth offenders, as well.  These include a prohibition against incarceration for status offenses (conduct not considered criminal for adults, such as truancy and curfew violations), keeping youth out of “sight and sound” contact with adult inmates while incarcerated, banning housing of youth offenders in adult facilities while awaiting trial as juveniles, and mandating that states address disproportionality in the incarceration of minorities.

The disproportionality requirement has been changed to focus on racial and ethnic disparities. If states are found to have higher than expected incarceration rates of specific racial and ethnic groups, a specific amount of federal funding must be designated to reduce the inequities. Additionally, the sight and sound separation and jail removal requirements that previously existed for youth awaiting trial for juvenile offenses will now be applied to youth being tried as adults. Detention of youth on status offenses will be allowed for up to seven days if the juvenile has violated an existing court order and prosecutors prove it is necessary and the least restrictive intervention to serve the best interests of the offender.

Changes have also been made to criteria for appointments to State Advisory Committees overseeing Juvenile Justice. At least one individual must serve as a point person for each state to coordinate and certify compliance with the JJDPA. States must also report data annually on areas including incidence of restraint and seclusion of juvenile offenders, number and living arrangements of status offense cases, how many juveniles are released from custody, how many offenses occur on school campuses, and the number of pregnant juveniles incarcerated. A National Recidivism Measure will conduct research to collect, analyze and disseminate data on repeat juvenile offenders. Finally, the new law reauthorizes the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act for two years.

The reauthorization of JJDPA is a major win for LDA.  The LDA Justice Committee is making plans to follow and provide input on its implementation over the coming years.

IDEA 40th Logo

40th Report on IDEA Implementation Released

Since the 1975 passage of the Education of the Handicapped Act (PL 94-142), predecessor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the U.S. Secretary of Education has been required to provide Congress with an annual report on progress in implementing the federal special education law.  The 2018 report has been released and contains important historical and recent data and information on states’ efforts to provide a free appropriate public education and the outcomes for children and youth with disabilities.  Each edition of the Annual Reports includes narrative highlighting a specific aspect of special education, in addition to the regular data collection.  This report follows up on the 39th report with a continued focus on “results and accountability.”

The various sections of the report examine data from Part C, the infants and toddlers program, and Part B, the program serving children and youth ages 3 – 21.  Data represent the state of special education and early intervention services in school year 2015-16, with some historical data back to 2007.  State-by-state data give information about the number of infants, toddlers, children and youth served, as well as the number of personnel by categories providing those services. Other data highlight more specifically how states are meeting requirements of the law.

Of particular interest in this year’s report is an overview of special education research conducted under the auspices of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), part of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.  LDA has been a strong supporter of those research efforts. NCSER was authorized in federal law and began operating in 2005, and the report provides information about projects funded in the last 3 or 4 years.  NCSER projects may examine how children with disabilities learn, how to improve instruction, and evaluations of implementation of the IDEA.

The full report, as well as summary information and data, is on the Department of Education’s website.  These data should prove useful to LDA members as they review and examine how their own states are doing in meeting the spirit and intent of the IDEA.

School Image

No New Ground Broken in School Safety Report

While fairly comprehensive, the report of the Federal Commission on School Safety steered clear of gun safety issues and did not specifically call for more full time school-employed school mental health professionals or additional federal resources.  After close to a year of listening sessions and public input, the Commission offered recommendations ranging from character and social/emotional education and improving school climate to threat assessments and building security.

The report, issued in late December, is divided into three categories: “Prevent” (preventing school violence); “Protect and Mitigate” (protecting students and teachers and mitigating the effects of violence); and, “Respond and Recover” (responding to and recovering from attacks).

The “prevent” category is the largest section, and recommendations focus on several different aspects of the problem.  The Commission first directs States to provide resources to schools to improve the school climate and help students feel more connected to school, staff, and fellow students.  They also point to tiered systems such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as examples of good practice.

Next the report addresses cyberbullying and school safety. The Commission points to existing programs, rather than breaking any new ground. However, they do highlight several programs presented during the listening sessions used effectively in some states and districts around the country.  In addition, they recommend states, districts, and schools have policies to help prevent cyberbullying, including systems to monitor social media and report incidents.

Regarding mental health, the Commission focuses on services through community agencies and programs under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (Health and Human Services), rather than a focus on hiring more school-employed personnel – school social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses.  The report calls for increasing training for all adults who interact with children, including child care and preschool staff, on identifying early signs of mental illness.  For individuals in schools and community settings, the report cites “Mental Health First Aid” as a best practice program.

The “how-to” of school safety is also addressed.  The Commission recommends stronger collaboration among law enforcement agencies, schools, and behavioral health systems.  The report also recommends school and community partnerships to implement effective diversion programs at various stages of the criminal and juvenile justice systems.  In addition, the report speaks to the need for risk assessments and comprehensive school safety plans, based on the specific needs of each school and community, including how to ensure the safety of children with special needs.

Readers can access the full report here  LDA members should participate at the local school district and building levels to discuss how the needs of children and youth with learning disabilities will be addressed in any safety planning.  Advocating for  sufficient school-employed mental health and other specialized instructional support personnel in every building is also critical in order to meet students’ social, emotional, and mental health challenges through early identification and intervention, as well as prevention.

School Food Programs Could be Hit with Shutdown

Some families of children with learning disabilities qualify for and are able to access the school breakfast and lunch programs. For some children these may be the only nutritious hot meals they receive on a daily basis. In fact in 2017, about 30 million children participated in the lunch program and 15 million got breakfast at school. So what is the status of these important programs with the government shutdown?

School meals programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That agency is one of the federal departments shuttered since mid-December, as Congress and the president continue to negotiate over the status of funding for current fiscal year 2019. The USDA has now announced it has sufficient funding to keep the school breakfast and lunch programs operating only through March.

Parents who are furloughed due to the shutdown also have begun to apply for the meals programs, even if they previously have not qualified. Adding these children to the rolls will help families through a difficult time, but may result in a faster spend-down of remaining program funds overall for low-income and food insecure children.

Poor nutrition contributes to lower energy and other illnesses, which can affect children with learning disabilities in the classroom. Resorting to sugary snacks and other less nutritious foods or foregoing breakfast or lunch altogether also can have negative impacts on learning.

Even if the government shutdown appears not to have impacted you directly, LDA hopes this kind of information will make our readers aware of what neighbors and friends may be experiencing and offer their assistance. LDA supports ensuring all children receive the full benefit of their education, and the school food programs can help make that possible.

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