LDA Legislative News – March 2014



 President’s Budget Highlights ‘Results Driven Accountability’

In early March the Administration released the president’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY 2015; School Year 2015-16), with an interesting twist for IDEA funding. Rather than provide an increase for IDEA-Part B State Grants, the Administration has requested $100 million in new funding for Results Driven Accountability Incentive grants to support the work of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in moving special education from a compliance-based to a results-driven system.

The requested funds would be awarded to States through a competitive grant to implement State Systemic Implementation Plans focused on improving results for students with disabilities. As stated in the Department of Education’s FY 2015 budget document: “These incentive grants would be used by States to identify and implement promising, evidence-based reforms that would improve service delivery for children with disabilities while building State and local capacity to improve long-term outcomes for those children.”

The president’s request freezes Part B funding, with the estimated federal share per child remaining at $1,758, or around 16 percent of excess costs to educate students with disabilities. The budget proposal once again freezes funding for the Preschool Grant program, which has not seen an increase in a number of years. Part C Grants for Infants and Families would receive a small bump of 0.76 percent, and Part D national activities would be maintained at the current funding level.

Overall the Department of Education would receive one of the largest increases of any federal agency, with an additional $1.3 billion or 1.9 percent over the FY 2014 level. However, a large portion of that increase would go to new initiatives, such as the special education competitive grants mentioned above, rather than to the large formula grant programs like Title I and Career and Technical Education.

One of the biggest winners would be early childhood education, with a proposed record investment in universal access to preschool for low- and middle-income four-year-olds and incentives for States to serve more middle class families, as well. The president proposes $75 billion in mandatory funds for the Preschool for All program over ten years ($1.3 billion for FY 2015) and $500 million for competitive Preschool Development Grants to help States build or expand existing preschool programs.

The president’s budget is just the first step in a long process of determining which federal programs are funded and at what levels. Congress can take some, all, or none of the president’s proposed budget. The next step will be for the House and Senate Appropriations leadership to determine the allocations for each of the 12 appropriations committees, after which those subcommittees will develop their specific funding bills.

LDA follows the work of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education subcommittee, which, in addition to education, has jurisdiction over some very controversial programs such as the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, it is likely that the Labor-HHS-Education bill will be among the last to be debated. Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) have both expressed the desire to make every attempt to complete the appropriations process by September 30, 2015, the end of the current fiscal year, to avoid another government shutdown or the need to pass a stopgap Continuing Resolution.


Proposed ADA Rules Open for Comment

In 2008 Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) explicitly rejecting several Supreme Court decisions that sharply narrowed the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  LDA worked closely with the National Center for Learning Disabilities to ensure individuals with specific learning disabilities continue to receive the benefits of the ADA and were successful in those attempts.  The Department of Justice (DOJ), the agency with jurisdiction over enforcement of the ADA, now has moved to the next step in the process, issuing proposed language to conform the ADA regulations with the 2008 statutory changes.

Under the ADAAA, “disability” must be given a broad interpretation and without extensive analysis, ensuring protections for individuals as originally intended by Congress when the ADA was first passed.  Disability is defined as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or major life activities,” a record of such an “impairment,” or being “regarded as” having such an impairment.  The ADAAA provides a more expansive, non-exhaustive list of what constitutes a “major life activity,” including “learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating” and a list of major bodily functions.

Specific learning disabilities are included in the definition of “physical or mental impairment.” In the proposed regulations, the DOJ has added a qualifier to “specific learning disabilities” – “including but not limited to dyslexia.”  LDA has provided comments to the Department of Justice on this addition, as well as on other parts of the proposed regulations.  Final regulations most likely will not be issued until later in the year.


New Information on Discipline Disparities Released

The Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative, comprised of 26 nationally known social scientists, educators, and legal experts, has released the Disciplinary Disparities Briefing Paper Series .  The series presents three papers on policy, practice, and new research with the most recent findings on disciplinary disparities, and focuses on what can and is being done to reduce those disparities. 

LDA has been involved in many national discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline and the negative impact of harsh school disciplines policies on students with specific learning disabilities. The Collaborative’s findings corroborate that students with disabilities and African-American students are disproportionally impacted by such policies, including suspensions at much higher rates than the rest of the student population.  LGBT students also were found to be overrepresented in suspension. According to the Collaborative’s findings, students with disabilities across racial groups are suspended nearly twice as often as their non-disabled peers – 13 percent versus 7 percent.

Citing U.S. Department of Education data, the Collaborative notes more than 3 million students in grades K-12 were suspended during the 2009-10 academic year, a steady rise since the 1970s when the suspension rate was half that level.  According to the Collaborative, the increase has occurred because school leaders either are so overwhelmed with money and testing demands that they gravitate toward what they perceive as “easy” discipline solutions, or they really believe the school environment will improve if the “troublemakers” are removed.

On the positive side the group notes promising alternatives that, when implemented and embraced by school leaders and staff, can effectively reduce both the need for discipline and its disproportionate effects.  Schoolwide prevention programs that build “trusting, supportive relationships between students and educators” can reduce the likelihood of conflict.  When students do misbehave, it can be addressed through constructive and fair “restorative justice” policies that reduce unnecessary discipline.  These policies focus on problem-solving instead of just resorting to punishment.

Each of the three briefing papers is addressed to a different audience: policy recommendations for district, state and federal officials; effective discipline alternatives for school personnel; and a description for researchers of recent studies and unanswered questions that need examination.  These resources follow the January release of federal guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, outlining the civil rights obligations school systems face in administering discipline (See LDA Legislative Update, January 2014).


Data Quality Campaign Addresses Student Privacy

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) has produced some excellent materials that address the issue of privacy of education data.  There are several briefs specifically targeted to parents that explain the facts about education data and what questions parents should be asking about collection and use of these data.  In addition, they have provided guidance for policymakers and the public that clarifies the importance of data while underscoring the need for ethical and appropriate use of this information. 

Several federal privacy laws govern the use of student data and online data collected from children ages 13 and under.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states what student information can be collected by schools, how and by whom it may be used, and what must occur when those data are no longer needed by the school district.  The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) focuses on online data.  To easily distinguish these laws, FERPA covers information about students, and COPPA covers information from students.

DQC also tracks State legislative initiatives regarding privacy, security, and confidentiality of information.  Currently there are 70 bills pending in 31 States. Both Georgia and New York have bills that are moving quickly.  Some of the State efforts are reactions to media coverage of the unauthorized release of data and may, in fact, overreach in the other direction, making appropriate data sharing more difficult.  In addition, State bills may include different definitions from FERPA, which might make it hard to coordinate State and federal laws.

To get started on this topic, check out Talking About the facts of Education Data With Parents.  Many other resources are available for parents, professionals, and policymakers at http://www.dataqualitycampaign.org/.

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