LDA Legislative News – June 2015

House_Appropriations_Committee_logoDeal Needed to Save Education Funding

Congress has begun its deliberations on spending – “appropriations,” in congressional parlance – for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 which begins on October 1, 2015.  The first step in the long process involves consideration of funding bills by the 12 appropriations subcommittees, one of which is Labor-Health and Human Services-Education. That bill contains most all the programs LDA follows.  The House Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee led off in mid-June with passage on a party-line vote of a draconian bill that would significantly reduce spending for most education programs.  

Overall funding for discretionary programs in the Department of Education would be cut by $2.8 billion below current levels under the House subcommittee bill.  This is a larger cut than occurred under the FY 2013 sequester.  Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) expressed several times during the bill markup his desire for more money in some programs, such as early childhood education, but said the subcommittee had to stay within its allotted amount.  The Democrats, led by Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), offered a number of amendments to restore and increase program funding, but all failed on a party-line vote.  Several Republican members supported programs named in Democratic amendments; however, they voted against the amendments citing the need to rein in overall spending and the need for offsets from other programs to achieve any of the suggested increases. 

One of the few programs slated to receive an increase would be IDEA State Grants, with an additional $502 million included in the bill.  Other programs that would receive much smaller increases include Indian Education, Charter School Grants, and TRIO, a program for students first in their families to attend college.  Head Start would receive $192 million more, $150 million designated for Early Head Start and the remainder for a cost of living allowance for Head Start grantees.

These increases would be possible under the very small amount allotted to the subcommittee because the bill also eliminates at least 19 education programs, cuts several others, and freezes funding for major programs such as Title I, English Language Acquisition, and Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants.  Although the final bill language was not available as this article was being written, it appears the remaining IDEA programs – Part C, Preschool Grants, and Part D National Programs – would be frozen at FY 2015 levels.

Among the program eliminations are the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program, Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program, Arts in Education, Teacher Quality Partnerships, and Mathematics and Science Partnerships.  The School Improvement State Grants, providing funds to schools to turn around low-performing schools, would also face elimination, a loss of $505.756 million in education funding to States.

In addition, other programs of concern to LDA members would suffer under this bill.  Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research would see a decrease of $180.25 million, and Career, Technical, and Adult Education would lose approximately $7 million.

The next step in the process is for the full House Appropriations Committee to consider this bill.  Passage is likely, but again on a party-line vote.  In the meantime, the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee will probably vote on a similar package in late June, with the Republican majority supporting and the Democrats attempting to add more funds.  The bottom line is the appropriators need a budget deal akin to the Ryan-Murray package that gave relief a few years ago in order for them to adequately fund federal programs providing critical services to citizens across the country.   Such a deal may not emerge until late fall.   LDA will be monitoring these activities and will report as the process unfolds. 


CEEDAR Targets Adolescent Reading Instruction

Evidence-Based Reading Instruction for Adolescents Grades 6-12 (Hougen, May 2015) is the latest report produced by the CEEDAR Center, a technical assistance center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education.  The report highlights the good news and bad news about the achievement gap for students with disabilities and provides a tool for teacher educators to use in preparing new teachers in the use of evidence-based strategies to improve literacy rates. 

The good news is that average reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders on the most recent administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP; 2013) are higher than previous test results.  That said, only 36% of eighth-graders and 35% of fourth-graders scored at a proficient level, and the gaps for African-American and Hispanic students are still high. 

For students with disabilities, the good news is that more students are included in the NAEP testing with appropriate accommodations than in the past.  However, the bad news is that about 69% of fourth-graders and 60% of eighth-graders with disabilities scored below basic levels in reading on the 2013 NAEP. 

To address this problem, CEEDAR has produced a document that looks first at what knowledge base teachers should have on each of the essential components of evidence-based reading instruction.  The second part of the document targets effective application of this knowledge in instructing students with reading disabilities.  Both parts use a multi-tiered system of supports framework.  Tier 1 looks at adolescent literacy in core general education curriculum, Tier 2 interventions focus on students typically two or more grades below grade-level expectations, and Tier 3 addresses needs of students requiring intensive interventions in small groups by reading specialists in settings usually outside the general education classroom. 

Other CEEDAR teacher prep documents focus on topics ranging from transition for students with disabilities and universal design for learning to use technology, principal leadership, and culturally responsive teaching.  To view these reports, go to http://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/.


Bill Highlight:  Supportive School Climate Act of 2015

Note: In an effort to keep LDA members informed of legislation in Congress that impacts children and youth with learning disabilities, we will occasionally provide highlights of bills reflecting the LDA Legislative Agenda. 

The Supportive School Climate Act of 2015, sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), focuses on positive behavioral interventions and supports.  States wishing to use part of their Title I-Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA; currently known as No Child Left Behind) funds to improve school climate would submit a plan to the Secretary of Education describing how they would create a positive school climate, improve engagement for disconnected youth, create fair discipline policies focused on keeping students in school, and enabling students removed from school to resume their education.

Schools receiving School Improvement Grant funds would be required to provide parents with information about the number of incidents of school violence, disaggregated by student subgroups (including students with disabilities), bullying, substance abuse, and disciplinary actions.  In addition, school improvement plans must include how schools will better engage families and community with the school and establish best practices for school conduct and discipline codes.

The bill also addresses children and youth under the Neglected, Delinquent, and At-Risk provisions of Title I-ESEA.  States applying for these grants would have to establish procedures to ensure youth in the juvenile justice system are promptly re-enrolled in school or appropriate re-entry programs and facilitate transfer of credits earned by students while in juvenile placements.  In addition, States would provide these students with opportunities to participate in postsecondary and career pathways.

This bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  Most likely Senator Murphy and his co-sponsors will attempt to have some of these provisions incorporated in the reauthorization of the ESEA when the Every Child Achieves Act (Senate ESEA bill) reaches the Senate floor, possibly in late June.


Infant and Toddler Services Focus of New Report

The Center for American Progress has issued a new report, Emerging State and Community Strategies to Improve Infant and Toddler Services (June 2015), focused on creating a coordinated system of services for children ages birth to five.  The report cites inadequate funding for high-quality early childhood programs, the fact that programs often work in isolation, and the unmeet needs of eligible families.  The IDEA Part C Infant and Toddler and Preschool programs are listed with others funded through the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture as initiatives States look to in providing a comprehensive service system. 

States and localities understand the need for coordinated systems to meet infants’ and toddlers’ health, nutrition, educational, and safety needs.  Therefore, such programs must be accessible to families who need them and in such a way that the burden is not on the families to find these resources. 

Currently early care and educational programs are significantly underfunded, often leaving eligible families unable to participate in these critical services.  In addition, programs often address only one need, leaving families unaware they may qualify for other services. 

Federal policies need to be in place to support States and localities in their efforts for better coordination.  Such coordination would also improve transition from one system to another, enhancing outcomes for infants and toddlers and preparing them as they enter the educational setting.  The report calls for greater investments in early learning, supported by many years of research on brain development and the success of early interventions, and ensuring these investments are ongoing.  Flexibility in funding to allow for better service alignment and braided funding are also recommended. 

Most important, the authors call for a permanent federal cross-agency office targeted specifically to infants and toddlers. The office would follow States’ lead in overseeing and helping to develop a continuum of services.  In addition, the office would provide guidance and technical assistance for States and localities in applying for and implementing federal grants and would coordinate efforts across federal agencies to collect data, improve quality, and streamline grant applications and reporting.

To read the full report, go to https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/InfantToddlerAlignment-report2.pdf.


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