LDA Legislative News – May 2014

AppropriationsAppropriators Hope for Return to Regular Order

In the congressional appropriations (spending/funding) process, “regular order” means passing bills through subcommittee and full committee and then passage on the floor of the House or Senate.  This orderly process of determining spending for the next federal fiscal year (FY) has been out of whack for quite a few years.  Now Senate Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) have stated they are determined to return to regular order for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on October 1, 2014.  LDA follows most closely the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (Labor-H) appropriations subcommittee, and it looks like both House and Senate subcommittees are on track to move forward this summer.

“Marking up” is the term for consideration of a bill by a congressional subcommittee or committee, including the opportunity to offer amendments.  The Senate subcommittee hopes to mark up its Labor-H bill the first or second week of June, and the House subcommittee is also looking ahead to a markup some time this summer.  One complication on the House side is that Subcommittee Chairman Jack Kingston (R-GA) is locked in a tight primary race for the open Senate seat in Georgia, but Committee Chairman Rogers does not want politics to delay passage of a bill.

While process is important to moving an FY 2015 Labor-H bill forward, of more concern is the amount of money allocated to the subcommittees to fund the programs under their jurisdiction.   The FY 2014 omnibus spending bill passed earlier this year returned some programs to their pre-sequestration levels.  However, all the sequestration cuts were not restored to a number of programs, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Overall, both Senate and House FY 2015 allocations for Labor-H programs, which include all federal education, health, and employment and job training programs, are below the FY 2014 level and also well below the FY 2010 level, the high water mark in funding after which the level declined in each subsequent fiscal year.

There are also some serious political differences between the parties in the Labor-H bill, including funding for the Affordable Care Act and other social issues such as family planning.  However, one area of agreement is on K-12 education, where both sides support investments in key foundational programs like the IDEA and the ESEA, rather than creating new competitive grant programs that benefit only a small handful of States and school districts.

LDA follows the appropriations process very closely.  After the congressional education committees enact a program such as the IDEA, the program cannot be implemented unless the appropriations committees provide the funding.  Therefore, LDA’s advocacy on appropriations is a critical step in ensuring services are delivered to individuals with specific learning disabilities under all federal education, health, and job training programs.

student-yound-asking-teacher-questionEducation Department Issues Charter Schools Guidance

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidance on the applicability of federal civil rights laws to charter schools, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibit discrimination based on disability.  In response to parents, local school officials, and chartering agencies requesting this clarification, OCR states clearly that federal civil rights laws, regulations, and guidance apply equally to public charter schools and traditional public schools.

In addition to Section 504 and the ADA, several other civil rights statutes apply to charter schools.  These include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, or national origin; and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibiting discrimination based on sex.  Charter schools do not have to receive federal funds specifically under the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program to be obligated under these laws. All public schools, including charter schools, receive some federal financial assistance directly or indirectly under the many education programs administered by the Department and are thus subject to federal civil rights laws.

The new guidance document highlights several subjects pertinent to charter schools, including their obligations to avoid discrimination in admissions practices and implementation of discipline policies, provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, and take affirmative steps to assist English learners. Specific information is given on each topic.

Regarding Section 504, the guidance document states students with disabilities in public schools, including public charter schools, must be provided FAPE.  This includes the obligation to follow evaluation and placement procedures if a student needs, or is suspected of needing, special education and specialized instructional support services.  The guidance further clarifies that charter schools may not ask or require students or parents to waive their right to FAPE as a condition of attendance.  Charter schools also must provide nonacademic and extracurricular activities and services in a manner that enables students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate.

Charter schools have other obligations to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which are not covered in this document.  OCR intends to work with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) to issue joint guidance at a later date regarding the rights of students with disabilities who attend charter schools and their parents under the IDEA.

To read this guidance, go to http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201405-charter.pdf

toward-a-grad-nationGrad Rate for Student with Disabilities Continues to Lag

Building a GradNation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic , a report from the GradNation campaign to raise the national graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020, cites the high school graduation rate has risen above 80 percent for the first time in U.S. history. The number of students in “dropout factories” – schools where no more than 60 percent of students who enter as freshmen graduate –  has dropped 47 percent in the last ten years, and students of color have seen the biggest gains in graduation rates.  However, GradNation also notes the national average graduation rate for students with disabilities is 20 percent lower than the overall national average. Without improvement for students with disabilities, the 90 percent graduation rate will be seriously hindered.

Just as States identify students for special education at different rates, graduation rates for students with disabilities across States also vary widely.  For example, in Nevada the graduation rate for students with disabilities is 24 percent, while in Montana there is an 81 percent graduation rate.  This variation is more than twice as large as the variation among states for graduation rates for all students.  The report cites estimates by the Everyone Graduates Center that indicate raising graduation rates for these students to 80 percent in 10 States would raise those States’ graduation rates by four to six percentage points. Nine of the 10 States in which there would be the greatest impact currently have the lowest overall graduation rates (Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, Rhode Island, New York, Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Alaska), with West Virginia as the exception with an 83 percent overall graduation rate and a 49 percent rate for students with disabilities.

The report links poor graduation rates for students with disabilities with factors such as the significantly higher rates of suspension and expulsion and restraint and seclusion of this population.  Simple logic dictates if students are not in class or in school, graduation becomes considerably more difficult.  The report acknowledges efforts by States, school districts, and individual schools to reverse this trend, including use of multi-tiered systems of support to improve the learning environment, greater inclusion in the general education classroom, and a team approach to addressing both academic and behavioral challenges.

To reach the 90 percent graduation goal, GradNation suggests efforts be focused on four key areas: chronic absenteeism; ensuring engagement of students in the middle grades; access to education and employment for the more than 6 million young people ages 18 through 24 who are not currently in school, do not have a diploma, or are not employed; and, providing students with social and emotional skills necessary to be successful in school and beyond.


USSenateHELPSenate Early Childhood Bill Advances

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697), sponsored by Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) on a party line 12-10 vote.  The bill would provide grants to expand access to high-quality preschool for four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families (incomes under 200 percent of poverty) through State-federal partnerships.  The Committee’s ranking member, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) offered an amendment as a substitute to the Strong Start bill.  The amendment would have allowed States to consolidate funds from existing early childhood programs including IDEA programs for infants and toddlers and preschoolers, rather than provide additional funds for early childhood.

During the committee debate, Senators Harkin and Alexander engaged in discussion that once again highlighted the parties’ philosophical difference over the role of the federal government.  While they agreed on the importance of having high-quality early education, Harkin’s bill would provide significant increases in funding and Alexander’s substitute amendment would have block-granted current funding under Head Start, the IDEA early childhood programs, parts of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. Alexander’s amendment also listed a variety of activities for which the funds could be used, with States being able to use the entire amount for only one activity, for example, consolidating all funds for use only with young children with disabilities.

States could use 20 percent of the State-federal partnership grants to improve quality, including provision of scholarships, release time and other supports to help teachers meet the requirement that they get a bachelor’s degree, and for ongoing professional development.  States may also use up to 15 percent of the funds for high-quality early care and education for infants and toddlers from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of poverty.

Another grant program authorized under the Act would be available to Early Head Start agencies to partner with center-based and family child care providers, particularly those receiving funds under the Child Care and Development Block Grant, to expand high-quality programs for children from birth through age three. Priority would be given to applicants that coordinate with other federal and State-funded home visiting, child care, and prekindergarten programs in order to create a continuum of services from birth to school entry.  

Representative George Miller (D-CA), ranking member on the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced a similar bill in the fall.  However, the committee has not taken up the Miller bill, and there is no schedule to do so at this time.


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