LDA Legislative News – November 2015

ESEA Moves Toward Final Action

After numerous attempts over several years, Congress appears ready to finalize the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA, first enacted in 1965 to provide compensatory education for minority and low-income children, has grown to include educator preparation, education for English language learners, and other aspects of a well-rounded K-12 education. Congressional leaders hope to complete work on the latest version of this important law by the end of the calendar year. 

A conference committee of members of the House and Senate education committees met in late November to reach agreement on a final bill. The House and the Senate each passed versions of a new ESEA in July, but the two bills were significantly different in their approaches. House and Senate committee staff have worked continuously since the summer to reconcile those differences and reach consensus on an acceptable compromise.

House Chairman Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Scott (D-VA) then joined with Senate Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) to bring the bill to the conference committee for debate and amendment. Several amendments were added to the framework presented, and the resulting package passed the conference committee on a vote of 38 to 1. The next step is for the full House and Senate each to consider the bill. Despite remaining opposition from some factions of both parties, it is expected the bill will pass both chambers and be signed into law by the president.

Following is a brief summary of a few key changes from current law, based on material released by the conference committee. The actual legislative language was not presented to the committee and was not scheduled to be released until after the Thanksgiving recess.

  1. The bill repeals "adequate yearly progress" and a federal accountability system, instead requiring States to adopt their own accountability frameworks. State plans would be submitted to, but not subject to approval of, the Secretary of Education. States may use multiple measures to determine school performance. They are required to identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high school dropout factories, and schools where any of the subgroups (including students with disabilities) are consistently underperforming, based on the State's accountability system.
  1. States will continue to test students annually in reading and math, grades 3-8, and once in the high school years, and test in science three times between grades 3 and 12.   A pilot program will allow some States to develop and use innovative assessments, including nationally recognized local assessments, as long as they are technically sound. An amendment passed in the conference committee will allow States to put limits on the aggregate amount of time spent on testing versus time spent on instruction.
  1. States will continue to determine math and reading standards. The federal government is prohibited from mandating or creating incentives for the use of any particular set of standards, including the Common Core.
  1. A one-percent State-level participation cap will be placed on the number of students with significant cognitive disabilities allowed to take alternate assessments based on alternate academic standards.
  1. "Highly qualified teacher" provisions are eliminated. However, States must ensure special educators continue to be "highly qualified," with the definition of highly qualified left to the States.
  1. Several current programs are eliminated, while others are included in a larger block grant. Within that block grant, programs are divided among three pots – well-rounded students, safe and healthy students, and technology. These pots include, among other programs, afterschool programming, physical education and mental health services, arts education, literacy, school safety, and STEM education.
  1. The bill includes a transferability provision that allows States to transfer 100 percent of funds they receive under Title II (educator preparation and professional development) and Title IV (See #6 above) to Title I.

The law will be authorized for years 2017 – 2020, and will go into full effect for the 2017-18 school year. Current ESEA waivers will expire at the end of the current school year to allow States time to transition to the newly passed law.

Once the final bill language is released, LDA will provide a more in-depth summary. The bill is scheduled to be on the House floor the first week of December and then go to the Senate the following week. Remember that these schedules may slip, depending on other issues that must be addressed. That said, leadership of both chambers are committed to completing this bill in December.

 

Spending Levels for FY 2016 Still Not Final

Congress completed a two-year budget deal that sets the overall spending levels for the current fiscal year (FY 2016) and the next (FY 2017). Based on that work, new allocations with additional funding have been given to the spending – appropriations – subcommittees. However, subcommittees must now decide the spending levels for individual federal programs under their jurisdictions. With the government operating under a stopgap Continuing Resolution (CR) until December 11, the clock is ticking to get this work done or Congress will have to pass another CR until final decisions are made. 

There are 12 appropriations subcommittees, each with jurisdiction over certain federal agencies. It will be impossible for 12 separate bills to be passed in a timely fashion; therefore, Congress is working on an omnibus package that combines the individual bills in order to get the work completed. LDA focuses mainly on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education subcommittee, which funds all the programs in the LDA legislative agenda.

The Labor-HHS-Education is one of three bills not yet completed. The new subcommittee allocation, based on the budget deal, is an increase of $5.2 billion over FY 2015. However, it appears the subcommittee wishes to used a substantial portion of the increase for the National Institutes of Health, leaving much less for increases in other programs, such as education and job training.

Another sticking point in getting an omnibus passed are policy riders that can be attached to the bill. These might include funding for Planned Parenthood and other ideological amendments. A number of members of Congress have joined together to send letters to leadership asking for clean bills that do not include these divisive provisions.

LDA supported the NDD (Non-Defense Discretionary) United coalition along with 2,000-plus national organizations to get the budget deal passed. We are continuing to contact appropriations staff to ensure good funding levels for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other programs of concern to our members.

ED Issues Clarification on IEP Alignment

In conjunction with the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the IDEA, the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter clarifying that individualized education programs (IEP) must be aligned with States' academic content standards "for the grade in which the child is enrolled." The letter does not change any current requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, but simply acts as a reminder of what those statutory and regulatory provisions say.

The guidance begins by outlining that each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) based on that child's unique needs. The vehicle through which FAPE services are provided is the IEP, and the IEP goals must be aligned with "grade-level content standards for all children with disabilities." The letter acknowledges States may also develop alternate academic standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

A reiteration of the requirement to apply grade-level standards appeared in the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The guidance letter notes some States have adopted standards-based IEPs reflecting this alignment in order to meet the requirements of both ESEA and the IDEA. According to research cited in the letter, using challenging standards and instruction aligned to grade level standards and delivered with appropriate services and supports has shown to produce better results for students.

What is most important in the guidance document is the reminder that the IEP considers "whether the child is on track to achieve grade-level proficiency within the year." The letter states, "an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child's reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap." In addition, the IEP must enumerate the special education and specialized instructional support services to be provided to ensure the student can access and advance in the general education curriculum, again based on that student's individual needs.

The Department of Education is soliciting comments on the guidance letter, particularly in three areas: examples of models of alignment that are working well at the State and local level, how the guidance could be implemented for students with disabilities who are English language learners, and application of the guidance to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The document may be found by clicking here.   For more information on the IDEA 40th anniversary events, history and more, go here.

Disciplinary Action Against Students with Disabilities Persist

The UCLA Center for Civil Right Remedies reports California is taking serious steps to turn around the overuse of suspension with some student populations, including African American students with disabilities. These efforts resulted in a decrease of over 200,000 suspensions in 2013-14 than two years prior. They have also seen an increase in academic achievement in districts where the suspension rate has gone down. However, the authors caution they did not control for other variables that may have contributed to increased achievement. The report also shines a light on some districts where exceedingly high rates of suspension persist. 

The report has some significant information on the issue of suspension of students with disabilities in the State. Authors note federal data indicate schools in California suspend students with disabilities more than any other group and that African American students with disabilities had 40 disciplinary removals per 100 enrolled in 2012-13. In addition, while California collects data on students with disabilities, the State is out of compliance with federal requirements that these data must be reported to the public.

Some important recommendations are drawn from the data analyzed. These include the following:

  • Support teacher training focused on improving student engagement and provide more support generally for educators to improve school climate.
  • Expand efforts to reduce suspensions at the State and district levels, and monitor disaggregated discipline data by race, gender, and disability.
  • Eliminate suspensions for minor offenses such as disruption and defiance for all grades.
  • Make reducing exclusionary discipline one of the core indicators of a healthy school environment.
  • Research the keys to lowering rates and closing the discipline gaps by race, disability, and gender. Examine the relationship between suspension rates and academic outcomes, such as graduation rates.
  • Increase the collection of discipline data and reporting by grade level and across subgroups, such as race with gender, and pilot the collection of data on LGTBQ youth.
  • Comply with federal law that requires annual public reporting on disciplining of students with disabilities, broken down by race and disability category.

The full report can be found here. This topic will most likely be examined in the next reauthorization of the IDEA, with implications for fairness, good educational practice, and better outcomes for students with disabilities.

 

Comments

  1. Heidi Braswell says:

    I thought this piece of legislation was describing some changes in Education for Adults with LD, but I didn’t see anything about that. But basically i would like to know why can’t I find Special Education schools or programs for myself at a reasonable Community College rate? Doesn’t that completely take advantage of the LD community in a form of exploitation? What I am seeing is these special schools that do provide the type of special education as well as programs that one needs to survive in the world, is that they are only private pay. How can that be right on any moral level? Its exploitation!

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