LDA Legislative News – July 2018

Man with Binoculars

Collett Addresses Department Policy Lens

Johnny Collett, Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), U.S. Department of Education, recently addressed the lens through which his department will examine current and future policies related to children and youth with disabilities.  At a Town Hall sponsored by the Council for Exceptional Children and the Council of Administrators of Special Education, Collett said that “tinkering around the edges” will not suffice to provide a system that adequately serves individuals with disabilities.

Collett noted that “systems change is not easy” and that it “doesn’t happen quickly.”  He said, in fact, that a key to systems change is meaningful and effective collaboration among stakeholders.  He noted in his years of experience in the field that it is not just about “working hard,” but rather about working “differently.”  Otherwise, the field would be closer to its goals.  Collett stated that preparing children with disabilities cannot be about protecting turf or about “what’s convenient for adults.”  He also said OSERS wants to be transparent and honest, which will involve looking at deeply embedded systems that put the system’s needs over those of the child.

OSERS will look at policies through a multi-faceted lens that essentially is a “rethinking” of special education, where that filter

  • moves the system forward, not backward,
  • focuses on seeing issues first through the lens of the individual, and
  • provides as much flexibility to states as possible.

When questioned about how he defines “rethinking special education, the Assistant Secretary said in part that will be determined in collaboration with stakeholders, beginning with whether stakeholders are willing to challenge the status quo. That includes working to improve parts of the system that are not currently functioning well.  In summing up this concept, Collett said the bottom line is agreeing everything will be on the table, while acknowledging that certainly not everything needs to be changed.

Finally, the Assistant Secretary was questioned about the recent decision to delay implementation of the regulations on significant disproportionality.  He responded there was no agenda beyond OSERS’ desire to craft a regulation that truly addresses the issue.  He concluded by saying it is not all right to establish environments where individuals do not get services only because of the color of their skin.

LDA looks forward to working with Assistant Secretary Collett, Deputy Assistant Secretary Kim Richey, and Ruth Ryder, Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to ensure the needs for children and youth with learning disabilities are in the forefront of any policy decisions made by the Department.

LDA Submits Comments on School Safety

LDA has submitted comments to the Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.  LDA proposed a positive rather than punitive approach.  The organization recommended schools begin to address school safety by examining the school climate and developing policies and procedures that ensure each student feels a part of a nurturing, caring school community.  In addition, LDA flagged the overarching issue of the continued inadequate federal investment in education, including targeted funding for school mental health services.

School safety, according to LDA, requires schools hire sufficient numbers of well-trained staff, including school mental health providers, and use appropriate evidence-based interventions.  All staff must be trained to identify students who are experiencing social and emotional challenges, including specific attention to addressing the needs of students with learning and other disabilities.  Staff should also know how to intervene where there is potential violence, which may involve utilizing other staff members such as school mental health providers or well-trained school resource officers.

LDA stated schools must “promote respect and tolerance among all students and adults, recognize and applaud successes large and small for every student, and identify as early as possible those students who need extra social, emotional, and academic supports.”  Students with learning disabilities, who may experience low self-esteem and frustration in the school environment are particularly vulnerable and should receive interventions and supports as early as possible.

Finally, LDA commented to the Commission that family support is also critical and is, in fact, required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  When families are in stress, children and youth may be unable to cope and may react inappropriately in school.  Therefore, schools must connect families with community services and work with them to identify and address children’s needs, increasing the chances of school success.

To read the full comments submitted by LDA to the Federal Commission on School Safety, go to https://ldaamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/LDA_Sch-Safety-Comments_070518.pdf.  Also, please note that any interested stakeholders and state and national organizations may submit comments to the Commission at safety@ed.gov.

FY 2019 Process Moves Forward

It is still unlikely the appropriations process for FY 2019 will be completed by September 30, the end of current year FY 2018.  That said, Congress is much farther along than it has been in quite a few years, with only one bill of twelve left for consideration in the House Appropriations Committee and all bills passed by the Senate Committee.  Now the Senate and House must pass their versions of the 12 appropriations bills on the floor of each chamber, followed by conference committees to reconcile the differences between House and Senate bills.

The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill was the latest to be passed through House Appropriations Committee.  While the bill is much better than the president’s proposed budget, the total is slightly below the Senate version.  House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) stated he hopes his own committee number will increase once a conference committee combines the House and Senate versions.

Two big political hurdles now possibly stand in the way of the appropriations process being completed by the end of the current fiscal year.  First and foremost, this is a major election year, with all 435 seats of the House of Representatives in contention, as well as 35 Senate seats.  The Democratic party, now in the minority in both chambers, is hoping to capture the majority in at least one chamber and significantly close the gap between majority and minority in the other.  If the Republican majority believes they are in danger of losing that position, they may wish to get FY 2019 appropriations done before the election to ensure their priorities are funded.  On the other hand, if they are confident of retaining their majority, there will be less pressure to complete FY 2019 appropriations before November, opening the door for a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating possibly even into early next year.

The second impediment to completing the process on time is the recent nomination for the vacant Supreme Court seat.  The confirmation process, conducted in the Senate, can be lengthy and consume significant staff, committee, and floor time.  Even though Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has announced an abbreviated August recess for Senate members, there still may not be enough time to finish appropriations and also make serious headway into confirming the Supreme Court nominee.

The good news overall for LDA members is that the Labor-HHS-Education bill includes increases for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other LDA priority programs.  Regardless of how the appropriations process is finalized, LDA members can feel comfortable that children, youth, and adults with disabilities should continue to receive appropriate and adequate services in the next fiscal year.

Mechanic Working on a CarCareer and Tech Education Bill Advances

The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins), last reauthorized in 2006, has moved another step forward in the reauthorization process.  The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353) was passed by The House on a bipartisan voice vote in June 2017.  A full year later in late June 2018, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its bill, co-sponsored by Senators Casey (D-PA) and Enzi (R-WY), based on H.R. 2353 but with some significant changes that will have to be negotiated in a conference committee.  The bill is now awaiting Senate floor consideration.

Below are some of the provisions LDA has highlighted and is following in the Senate bill:

  • The definition and inclusion of “special populations” as part of the CTE system is retained. This includes individuals with disabilities, with the new additions of homeless students and students with parents on active military duty.
  • There are references throughout the bill to “universal design for learning,” which would increase the ability of students with disabilities to participate fully in CTE programs.
  • The bill adopts terminology from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act, which should make the connections among these Acts more seamless.
  • Individuals with disabilities and representatives of special populations would continue to be part of the state plan process, as well as the development of the local needs assessment.
  • The state plan would include a “description of the state program’s strategies for special populations, including how individuals who are members of special populations will be provided with appropriate accommodations and instruction and work-based learning opportunities in integrated settings that support competitive, integrated employment.”
  • The bill also requires data to be disaggregated by subgroups, allowing for a good view of how students with disabilities are doing in CTE courses.

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and Advance CTE, representing the state directors of CTE, are working to make several improvements in the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.  Passing this bill would be a significant step in a Congress that has had difficulty bringing forward bipartisan legislation.

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