LDA Legislative News – May 2018

Education Department Reviews Expenditures on OSEP Centers

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS, U.S. Department of Education) has been seeking public comment by May 24 on the best way for the Department to provide technical assistance to states on the collection and reporting of data under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The IDEA allows the Department to set aside not more than 0.5 percent of Part B funds to provide technical assistance to states to improve their capacity to meet data collection requirements.

Since the passage of the federal special education law, states have been required to provide annual data to the Department of Education on children with disabilities receiving IDEA services, and the Department has provided technical assistance to states to gather and report those data.  Enhanced data requirements were added through the 2004 IDEA amendments, as well as the authority for the Secretary of Education to set aside IDEA funds to provide technical assistance.

Since 2007, OSEP has used the Part B set-aside to fund six technical assistance centers: the Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems; the IDEA Data Center (IDC); the Center for the Integration of IDEA Data; the Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting (CIFR); the National Center for Educational Outcomes (NCEO), jointly funded with OSEP’s Technical Assistance and Dissemination Program; and EDFacts Technical Support Services, jointly funded with the National Center for Education Statistics.  These centers house and provide significant information about what students are served, expenditure of funds, and other critical data points.

The Department of Education has offered five options for the way technical assistance might be delivered to states and school districts on data collection and reporting.  The options are:

  • Continuing the current system of national technical assistance centers funded through the IDEA set-aside.
  • Allowing states and local districts to apply for funds to purchase technical assistance.
  • Reducing the amount of reserved funds for technical assistance and increasing states’ IDEA Part B formula grants.
  • Eliminating the set-aside for technical assistance and putting those funds into IDEA Part B formula grants.
  • Allowing states to reserve a larger portion of their Part B formula funds at the state level, rather than reserving funds for the Department of Education to provide technical assistance.

The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), representing state special education directors responsible for collection and reporting of IDEA data, has weighed in to support Option 1 – maintaining the current technical assistance centers.  These centers have an excellent track record of providing states with the help they need to make sure data are collected efficiently and are accurate and useful to both educators and the public.  It is unlikely all states would be able to purchase the specialized assistance necessary to continue to ensure data are collected and reported with the same level of reliability as the centers can provide.  Including additional funds in states’ Part B formula grants also is probably not a viable option, as the amount would likely be insufficient again to purchase the level of technical assistance required.

Comments are due by May 24, 2018, and can be posted by clicking here.

LDA Supports ESSA Family Engagement Program

LDA recently joined with the National PTA and 137 other national and state organizations to tell Congress to continue and increase funding for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers program, a grant program under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Congress included $10 million for federal Fiscal Year 2018, after not providing any funds for the last several years, and advocates are working to ensure this funding level is maintained in FY 2019 (School Year 2019-20).

The Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides competitive grants to statewide organizations or consortia of organizations to promote and implement evidence-based family engagement strategies.  The program, formerly known as the Parent Information Resource Centers, builds capacity for states and school districts to embed family engagement policies practices in their ESSA education plans.  Funds can also be used for professional development for school personnel on how to strengthen family-school partnerships and teacher-parent relationships.  In addition, families may receive direct services on how to work with their children to improve school outcomes.

LDA, as a family-oriented organization, is particularly interested this program.  The centers are an excellent complement to the Parent Training and Information (PTI) Centers funded under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and are essential to help parents of students with disabilities understand the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Both the IDEA and ESSA call for parent involvement and engagement at every step of the educational process, so it stands to reason both the PTIs and the SFECs have critical roles to play in assisting families.

President Proposes Funding Roll-Back

Congress made a lot of people happy with the recent passage of the final appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018).  Despite the extremely tight budget put forward by the Administration – including elimination of a number of education and other programs – Congress chose to maintain or increase funding for many federal programs.  Now the president and a group of conservative House members are working on a package for congressional consideration that would rescind, or withdraw, up to $15 billion in previously approved spending.  Although little, if any, of this money is expected to come from the recently enacted FY 2018 bill, this would set a dangerous precedent.

Senate and House Appropriations chairmen and other members in both parties oppose this move, noting that the FY 2018 omnibus spending bill was the result of a bipartisan negotiated deal.  These members believe any attempts to roll back already approved spending would show bad faith and decrease trust on both sides as Congress works to reach a deal for FY 2019, which begins on October 1, 2018 (School Year 2019-20).

Even before Congress acts on a rescission package, the rules governing this procedure allow funds considered for rescission to be “impounded” or withheld for 45 days while Congress debates the package.  This does not happen under normal legislation.  In addition, in the Senate a rescission bill gets fast-track consideration, is not subject to a filibuster, and requires only a simple majority vote.  If the 45 days elapses without passage of a bill, the president must release the funds and is not allowed to propose the same rescission or withhold those funds again.  If the president chooses not to release funds, the Government Accountability Office can sue in U.S. District Court for release of funds.  Having to resort to legal action could seriously delay funding getting to program beneficiaries.

LDA, with its national partner organizations in the NDD (Non-Defense Discretionary) United and Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities coalitions, have let Congress know that its March bipartisan deal to fund the government for FY 2018 must stand.  Any rescissions would be a step backward from that deal and would make bipartisan compromises very hard.  Further, LDA and its partner advocacy groups have articulated that the appropriate time to debate and make funding changes is during the regular annual appropriations process.  Congress has already begun work on FY 2019 spending bills, and diverting attention to a rescissions debate will only hamper Congress’s ability to complete spending bills by the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Corporal Punishment Still Allowed in 22 States

Just one month ago the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill banning spanking of children with disabilities in public schools.  Fifteen states expressly permit corporal punishment in schools, with an additional seven that do not explicitly prohibit it.  Recent studies show African American boys are the most likely category of students to receive corporal punishment, also a group of students overrepresented in special education.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed two bills addressing corporal punishment into law in the recent General Assembly session.  The first allows the state to collect information on this practice, which previously it did not track.  An investigative report by a Tennessee news station uncovered the fact that students with disabilities received corporal punishment at a higher rate than non-disabled students at 60 schools in the state.

A subsequent review by the state comptroller confirmed the independent report. The comptroller’s report also noted districts often did not document the reasons for the use of corporal punishment or what types of disabilities students had.  The new law requires the state department of education to report publicly the number of instances of corporal punishment and how many instances involved students with disabilities covered under the IDEA and Section 504.

The second bill, a bipartisan effort, specifically bans the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities unless parents provide written approval.  Previously many districts required parents to opt out of this practice, whereas the new law is instead an “opt-in.”

LDA has been following issues related to school discipline, most recently opposing the possible delay by the U.S. Department of Education to implement regulations addressing the issues of significant disproportionality.  LDA also supports a positive rather than punitive approach to school discipline, including increasing funding for Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a flexible block grant school districts can use to improve school climate and meet students’ physical and mental health challenges.

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