By Stephanie Fedro-Byrom, Operations Manager
“… states may determine their own processes for identifying and evaluating children. As a result, a child eligible for services in one state may be ineligible in another.” (“Special Education: Varied State Criteria May Contribute to Differences in Percentages of Children Served, Government Accountability Office, GAO-19-348, April 2019)
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found a wide variance in special education numbers across the states. The report found that states establish their own eligibility criteria for determining the presence of a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). This finding is not a surprise to LDA. Allowing individual states to determine their own eligibility sets up a system in which a student can be found to have a specific learning disability and eligible for special education in one state, only to move to another state and found not eligible. Sometimes this even happens when a student moves to a different school. If this has been your experience, then LDA wants to hear from you.
The GAO wrote the report in response to a request from Senator Patty Murray (D – WA) to examine how states implement IDEA’s Child Find requirements and how the U.S. Department of Education oversees state implementation of Child Find (GAO Report). Senator Murray is the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The GAO is a nonpartisan legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the United States Congress Its research and reports are highly regarded and given serious consideration by members of Congress.
Concern about the evaluation and identification of children for special education received national attention when the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles in 2016 alleging the Texas Education Agency set a cap of 8.5% on the percent of students who could be in special education. The GAO Report found, “in fall 2016, the percentages of the population aged 6 through 21 served in individual states ranged from 6.4% to 15.1%” The GAO examined the causes of such a variance in these numbers among the states.
The GAO found a possible contributing factor is that “states may determine their own processes for identifying and evaluating children. As a result, a child eligible for services in one state may be ineligible in another.” The GAO Report also discussed the challenges related to implementing Response to Intervention (RTI).
JoAnna Barnes, Co-Chair of LDA’s Public Policy & Advocacy Committee, is not surprised by anything in the GAO Report. “The findings in this report confirm what LDA has known for years. We frequently hear from parents and advocates about their frustration and disbelief that a child can have a specific learning disability in one school, and then move to another school and found to no longer have a disability. Speaking personally, as a lawyer, I don’t understand how this is not a civil rights violation. How can a child have a disability, and then based upon where he lives be found to not have a disability?”
“This inequity has long been a priority of the Public Policy & Advocacy Committee,” continued Ms. Barnes, “and we are very grateful to Senator Murray for requesting this report. We want to take the opportunity created by the GAO Report to bring more attention to this problem, and we know the personal story is one of the most effective tools to change laws and regulations.” To this end, LDA created a questionnaire about the SLD evaluation and eligibility experience. “We want this questionnaire to be widely shared, and reach as many people as possible who might have a story to tell. If we want things to get better, we first need to show how these laws affect people.”
If you have an experience with SLD evaluation or eligibility, whether you are a parent, educator, advocate, psychologist, individual with a LD, educator, go to the link below and share with LDA your story.