LDA Legislative News – June 2018

School Safety Commission to Provide Recommendations

The Federal Commission on School Safety was established by the president in March 2018.  Secretary of Education DeVos chairs the Commission, and the other members are the Attorney General and Secretaries of the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.  LDA is developing comments to submit to the Commission on how to improve safety in our schools and specifically how to address the needs of  students with learning disabilities in a safe school environment.

The Commission is charged with developing recommendations focused on keeping students safe in school.  They are considering areas including social and emotional and mental health supports, school safety infrastructure, raising the age for gun purchases, and the effect of the media and video games on violence.

At the first public listening session, stakeholders offered brief statements to individuals representing the commissioners.  Several high school students and family members of victims and survivors, as well as researchers and advocates, addressed the Commission.  Several themes emerged: the need to address gun safety, the need for more school-employed and community mental health providers and services, opposition to arming teachers or bringing more police – other than trained school resource officers – into schools, and support for creating a more positive climate for learning.

One student stated eloquently how fortunate he felt to walk across the stage the week before at his high school graduation and how saddened he was that victims of the recent shootings would not have the same opportunity.  He also made another statement that was highly relevant to students with learning disabilities – that some students go through days at school where no one addresses them by name, where they feel marginalized and isolated. He concluded that every student should be “recognized” every school day by someone in the school building.

In addition there have been two invitation-only meetings where the commissioners heard from “experts” and survivors of school shootings.  In addition, Secretary DeVos and representatives of the other commissioners visited some schools in Maryland to observe implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).

The Commission has indicated there will be several additional listening sessions held around the country, although the dates of those meetings have not yet been announced.  LDA hopes to have members speaking at those sessions.  In addition, the public is encouraged to provide information to the Commission at safety@ed.gov.  LDA’s comments will be posted on the organization’s website and disseminated to members.

A report is expected from the Commission by the end of the year with recommendations for action.

LDA Keeps an Eye on FY 2019 Federal Funding

While Congress just settled funding for the current federal fiscal year (FY 2018) in May, the next fiscal year – FY 2019 (School Year 2019-20) – begins on October 1, 2018.  The work of House and Senate Appropriations (funding) committees has started, with the 12 appropriations subcommittees marking up bills to send forward to the full Appropriations committees and then for final votes in the House and Senate.  The House Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (“Labor-H”) subcommittee that deals with most of LDA’s priority programs just passed its bill, which now moves to the full House Appropriations committee for consideration on June 27.

Congress provided solid funding for FY 2018 for the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Health and Human Services, despite the president’s budget proposals that significantly cut into these program areas.  For FY 2019, the House Labor-H subcommittee bill includes a tiny 0.1% overall increase for the education department, although specifics on a number of programs will not be available until after the full committee considers the bill.

The only specific cut mentioned in the subcommittee bill is for school safety national activities, down by 52%, with a set-aside within the remaining amount for a program called Project SERV.  That program is targeted to helping communities and schools with pervasive violence.

The House Labor-H bill also contains specific increases for several programs:

  • IDEA Part-B grants increased by 0.4%, or $50 million.
  • Charter schools increased by $50 million.
  • Head Start increased by $50 million, or 0.5%.
  • ESSA, Title IV-A block grant increased by $100 million.

Some programs frozen at the FY 2018 level are also delineated in the Labor-H bill:

  • ESSA, Title I grants.
  • All school improvement programs, including 21st century Community Learning Centers and rural education.
  • Full service community schools.
  • Indian Education.
  • English language acquisition.
  • Institute of Education Sciences (education research).
  • Office for Civil Rights.
  • Child care and Development Block Grant (Health and Human Services program).

It is expected the Senate Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee will also act the last week in June to pass a bill.  That said, it is unlikely once again that Congress will be able to complete action on all 12 appropriations bills – each with jurisdiction over certain federal agencies – before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2018.  Especially given the fact the midterm elections are looming in November, Congress is almost certain to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating, leaving the final funding decisions to late in the year or early in 2019.  The outcome of the election will determine when Congress acts to finalize FY 2019 funding.  If the Republicans maintain control of both chambers, they are unlikely to feel the urgency to act until next year.  However, if the Democrats gain control of either chamber, Republican leadership will want to leave its mark and complete work on the bills before the new Congress is seated in January.

White House Proposes Merging Departments of Education and Labor

The Administration has had as a consistent goal the streamlining of the federal government, already having begun the downsizing of several agencies. To move closer to that goal, the White House has just announced a proposal to merge the Departments of Education and Labor, an action attempted previously through a bill introduced in the House of Representatives inn 1995. That legislation failed to move forward, but the goal remains for some members of Congress.

Some members of the Republican party have talked for a long time about dismantling the Department of Education, created in 1980 by President Carter. Previously, education had been incorporated as a part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Contrary to some members of Congress who say the Department of Education is outsized, the Department of Education actually has the fewest number of employees of any Cabinet department. With this small workforce, Education has a broad mandate to oversee postsecondary education and student financial aid, distribute and monitor the funding of all K-12 education programs, and enforce federal civil rights laws in public schools and colleges.

The Administration has made clear a preference for apprenticeships and training students in vocational skills and trades. Since the Department of Labor includes training programs, the Administration believes consolidating Labor and Education would make achieving this goal easier. For LDA, while supportive of career and technical education, it is unclear what impact eliminating the Department of Education would have on special education programs, including how they would be administered and monitored, and more broadly how children and youth with learning disabilities would be served under a consolidated agency.

A change of this magnitude in the structure of the government would require a vote of Congress. As noted, there have been previous proposals to eliminate the Department of Education, but the current proposal is part of a larger effort to reorganize the missions of various agencies. For example, another proposal would bring all the safety-net programs for low-income Americans, currently administered through several agencies, under one “welfare” agency.

Given the current congressional schedule and gridlock on several education bills, including the Higher Education Act and Perkins Career and Technical Education, it seems unlikely Congress would make the change proposed by the Administration. The added factors of the annual appropriations fights and a contentious midterm election make any action on this proposal even more unlikely. However, the proposal does give a clear indication of what action the Administration intends to pursue going forward.

IES Explores Changes to What Works Clearinghouse

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has supported the What Works Clearinghouse (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) for more than 15 years.  The WWC reviews existing research and provides information to educators, so they can make informed decisions about evidence-based practices to employ in their schools and classrooms.  New IES Director Mark Schneider has announced some changes to the WWC he hopes will make the information more user-friendly and accessible to a wider audience.

The main goal of the WWC is to identify what interventions work.  IES recognizes that the cost of those interventions is also critical to school districts, with administrators often weighing several interventions with similar outcomes as they try to work within their budget constraints. IES plans to give more focus to cost in the WWC, as well as in its other work, including research grants.

Under the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) of 2002 which established IES, the agency is charged with disseminating its work in “forms that are understandable, easily accessible, and usable, or adaptable for use.”  The overall goal is to improve educational practice by educators, researchers, families, policymakers, and other interested stakeholders.  Over the last few years, IES has worked to disseminate information in more usable formats, and they hope to improve in this area.  They also will examine research metrics to see research results can be better understood by a wider audience.

The WWC has focused mainly on research in the K-12 range, while IES is charged with also looking at expanding the knowledge base in early childhood and postsecondary education.  Therefore, they intend to pay much greater attention, for example, in postsecondary education to the pathway to careers with higher wages.  On the other end of the spectrum, they hope to look more closely – in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the Administration for Children and Families (Department of Health and Human Services) – at the latest brain research and the implications for early learning beginning at birth.

IES is also dedicated to involving stakeholders in more of the decision making.  LDA closely follows the work of this agency, including participation in the Friends of IES coalition.  We will continue to keep LDA members informed as opportunities for input arise.

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