LDA Legislative News – May 2017

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Congress Finalizes FY 2017 Spending

Eight months into the current federal fiscal year (FY 2017), Congress has finally passed an omnibus spending bill.  At the same time, House and Senate appropriations committees already are deep in discussion on FY 2018, which begins on October 1, 2017.  The FY 2017 numbers are very close overall to the FY 2016 spending levels, with special education among accounts receiving a small increase.  This is significant, since the Department of Education had one of the largest decreases across the federal agencies.

The FY 2017 bill provides $68.2 billion for the U.S. Department of Education.  However, with a rescission in the Pell grant reserve fund, the total is actually $66.9 billion, or an overall cut of $1.1 billion compared to FY 2016. The president had requested major cuts in some education programs; however, Congress chose not to include those decreases.  It is possible some of those cuts could be proposed for FY 2018.

Following is a list of funding for some of LDA’s priority programs:

  • IDEA, Part B: +$90 million, or 1%, keeping the per pupil expenditure at around 16%.
  • IDEA, Preschool and Part C Infants and Toddlers:
  • IDEA, Part D:
    • State Personnel Grants: -$3 million.
    • Consolidated TA&D and Special Olympics, +$2.5 million.
    • Personnel Preparation and Parent Information Centers: Frozen.
    • Technology and Media: -$2 million.
  • ESSA, Title I: +$550 million, or 4%.
  • Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants: Frozen.
  • Career & Technical Education: Frozen.
  • Adult Education: Frozen.
  • Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants: +$6.78 million.
  • Medicaid Grants to States: +$9.63 billion.
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: +$40.49 million.

LDA staff makes regular visits to appropriations committee members to talk about LDA funding priorities.  We will keep readers informed about progress on decisions about FY 2018.

House-Passed Health Care Bill Bad for People with Disabilities

LDA did not support the first version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), given cuts to Medicaid and other provisions that affect individuals with learning disabilities.  That bill was pulled before reaching the House floor for lack of sufficient votes for passage.  Now the House has passed, on a vote of 217 -214, a version even worse than the first.

The American Health Care Act  (AHCA) will have a serious negative impact on individuals with learning and other disabilities.  The bill allows states to request waivers of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, and almost any reason for the request would suffice.  People with pre-existing conditions can be charged higher premiums for an entire year if there is a small gap in coverage, and this provision could go into effect as early as 2018.

The bill also weakens the “essential benefits” provision, under which insurers must provide coverage for a specific list of critical services.  These services include mental health care, prescription drug benefits, and maternity care.  States would have the option to adopt their own list of mandated services or decide not to require insurers to provide any specific list of benefits.  This provision would begin with plans sold in 2020.  State

Another harmful provision that would take effect in January 2018 would allow insurers to charge older adults even higher premiums than the original bill.  The original bill allowed “age rated” premiums for older adults at a rate of five times that of younger participants.  The new bill allows states to charge even more than five times the amount for younger people.

Any of these proposed changes would be accomplished through state-requested waivers.  The bar is very low.  As an example, states requesting such waivers would not have to guarantee coverage at all for individuals with pre-existing conditions.  Essentially people in this category could easily be priced out of the insurance market, returning to the pre-Affordable Care Act situation where many people simply could not afford health insurance.

LDA is involved in a coalition working on school-based Medicaid coverage.  Schools receive $4-$5 billion annually to provide health-related services to Medicaid-eligible students.  A large percentage of these funds pay for IDEA services, including occupational, physical, and speech therapy, some nursing services, and mental health services.  Under the AHCA, the structure of the Medicaid program would be changed, eliminating any guarantee that health-related services on students’ individualized education programs would continue to reimbursed.  Since these services are mandated under the IDEA, school districts will have to find other funds to cover these costs, thus reducing available funds for other education programming.

The House bill now goes to the Senate.  Senators have already indicated they most likely will write their own bill, since senators on both sides of the aisle have said they do not agree with some of the provisions in the House version.  Since the Senate bill will differ in at least some aspects from the House bill, the two bills will ultimately end up in a conference committee to reconcile the differences.  This process could take a considerable amount of time, and reaching agreement may not be possible.  LDA will continue to work with its partners in the general and special education and health communities to support health care reform that ensures continued coverage and services for all individuals with disabilities.

DC Voucher Program Found to Have Negative Impact

A recent study has found the only federally funded school voucher program—the Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, DC—to have a negative impact on elementary students’ reading and math scores. The DC program currently assists 1,100 low-income students to attend private schools through vouchers up to $8,452 for elementary and middle schools and up to $12,679 for high school.

The report, written by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (U.S. Department of Education), states that while some increases were seen in test scores of students in grades 6 through 12, the small increases were statistically insignificant.  Researchers found elementary students attending average public schools in the District of Columbia and who did not take the voucher had more reading and math instructional time than students in private schools using vouchers.  This difference in instructional time could have contributed to the negative effects, according to the study.

In addition, the report notes vouchers did not have a statistically significant impact on parent satisfaction or involvement with their child’s school.  However, parents who were offered or used the vouchers were more likely to view their child’s school as very safe.

School vouchers, tuition tax credits, or other forms of public subsidy of private education are a centerpiece of the Administration’s education policy.  As noted, despite multiple opportunities to pass expansive federal voucher programs, Congress has declined to do so.  That said, funding is once again included in the recently passed Fiscal Year 2017 federal budget for the DC program.  The spending bill reauthorizes the program through FY 2019 and continues current funding levels.

LDA is on record opposing public subsidies of private education.  In our efforts to educate congressional staff, we have explained how some students with disabilities may be placed in private schools as the least restrictive environment and, under those circumstances, maintain all their IDEA rights. In addition, we acknowledge the important role of private schools targeted at working with students with learning disabilities as an option parents may choose for their children.  However, we also have explained to congressional staff that families who use a private school voucher to enroll their children with disabilities in private schools lose their rights and protections under the IDEA.

color-175New Report on Learning Disabilities Issued

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has just issued The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5.  This year’s version includes a handy “snapshot” with information about risk factors, barriers to success, and recommendations for helping students with learning disabilities and their families.

Covering topics ranging from identification and school supports to social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and transition issues, the report has a wealth of useful, easily accessible information.  Among the statistical information cited, the report notes 1 in 5 American children have “learning and attention issues,” but only a small group of those students are identified as having a disability in school.  One in 16 public school students have an Individualized Education Program for specific learning disabilities, and 1 in 50 receive accommodations through Section 504.

The report also targets several policy areas where changes are needed to ensure all individuals with learning disabilities have the opportunity to realize their full potential.  Recommendations are included on expanding early screening, empowering students and families, cultivating creative and informed educators, driving educational innovation, and strengthening and enforcing civil rights laws and providing appropriate funding for public education programs.

The full report, an executive summary, and the “snapshot” can be downloaded at The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5

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