In what is considered one of the most contentious and inactive Congresses in history, the House Education and Workforce took a step forward recently by passing two bills with strong bipartisan support. Both bills would have some impact on students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities.
The first bill, passed unanimously by voice vote, is the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (HR 4366). Introduced by Representatives Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), this legislation would reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which gives authority for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the semi-independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. IES conducts research on all phases of education, including early childhood, elementary and secondary education, special education, and postsecondary education.
IES houses four research centers, including the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and the National Center for Education Research (NCER). NCER supports 10 Regional Educational Laboratories, and NCER and NCSER together support 16 Research and Development Centers that conduct and disseminate the results of basic and applied research focused on improving academic achievement. In addition to also conducting research, the Labs help translate research into practice for States and school districts. The Education Sciences Reform Act also has jurisdiction over the Comprehensive Centers which provide technical assistance to States and school districts to implement the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind).
HR 4366 updates the uses of funds and data collection at the various research centers, including NCSER. The bill clarifies that NCSER will focus on supporting research on effective special education practices, innovations in the field, and professional development for all personnel. Other uses of funds include examination of the needs of students with disabilities who are English learners, gifted and talented, and who have other unique learning needs. In addition, NCSER must support research on postsecondary and employment outcomes for students with disabilities, including students in career and technical education programs.
The second bill that passed the Committee with only four dissenting votes is The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (HR 10). The bill is very similar to current provisions on charter schools in the ESEA. Listed among the purposes of the Act is to “improve student services to increase opportunities for students with disabilities, limited English proficient students, and other traditionally underserved students to attend charter schools and meet challenging State academic achievement standards.” To that end, the bill reinforces providing technical assistance to charter schools to “recruit, enroll, and retain traditionally underserved students, including students with disabilities and English learners, at rates similar to traditional public schools.” Chartering agencies are also required to monitor charter schools to ensure they are enrolling these underserved populations. The bill was taken up by the full House in May. It was then referred to the Senate, read twice, and has now been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
There are ongoing discussions on the research bill, and the Senate may even consider attaching the bill to another legislative vehicle. LDA will keep you posted on these two bipartisan initiatives.