The U.S Department of Education (USDE) has been taking action to advance equity in education. The USDE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released a new report that explores how the impacts of the pandemic are falling disproportionately on students who went into the pandemic with the fewest educational opportunities, many of whom are from marginalized and underserved communities. Observations from the report include impacts of the pandemic on both K-12 and postsecondary education students, including how COVID-19 has deepened pre-pandemic disparities in access and opportunities facing students with disabilities, with significant impacts on their learning. The report also discusses how many students have lost access to mental health services during the pandemic. 

The USDE also released new guidance that shares how states and school districts can use American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds and other pandemic recovery funds to advance educational equity in COVID-19 responses. The guidance includes specific ways that schools can address the social, emotional, mental health, and academic impact of lost instructional time and support students with disabilities. 

Additionally, the USDE released its Maintenance of Equity guidance to implement an important provision of the American Rescue Plan as the nation continues to respond to the impact of COVID-19. These requirements will ensure that school districts and schools serving a large share of students from low-income backgrounds will not experience disproportionate budget cuts—and that the school districts with the highest poverty rates do not receive any decrease in state per-pupil funding below their pre-pandemic level. In addition, high-poverty schools will also be protected from disproportionate cuts to staffing. 

How Does This Impact Individuals with Learning Disabilities?

The USDE’s OCR report showed that many students with disabilities have faced widespread disruptions to their IEPs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another issue raised in the report is the linkage between students with disabilities and an increase in mental health challenges. The American Rescue Plan’s ESSER guidance offers states and school districts broad guidance to use the funding to support areas such as learning recovery, equity, health and wellness, mental health, as well as to support all parts of IDEA.

Your Voice in Washington and Beyond

In an effort to elevate LDA’s voice in the halls of Congress as they consider Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations, LDA, along with 27 state affiliates and 1 local chapter, sent a letter to congressional appropriators seeking funding for programs that support individuals with learning disabilities. In particular, we asked Congress to support: IDEA funding aligned with a glide path to full funding; increases to the Institute for Education Sciences budget; increases to the federal literacy program; increases to USDE’s civil rights enforcement budget.

Why Did LDA Take This Action?

One of LDA’s policy priorities is to achieve full funding of IDEA. Another of LDA’s policy priorities is to invest in literacy programs that would benefit individuals with learning disabilities.  LDA also supports greater investments in learning disabilities research and enhanced civil rights enforcement.

Appropriations and Funding Letters

As a member of the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, LDA signed onto the coalition’s FY 2022 appropriations letter to Congress. In this letter, we specifically urged Congress to increase funding for IDEA programs and requested support for President Biden’s $1 billion proposal to increase the number of school counselors, school psychologists, and other specialized instructional support personnel.

Why Did LDA Take This Action?

One of LDA’s policy priorities is to achieve full funding of IDEA. 

Advocating for Protecting Consumers from Toxic Chemicals

As part of LDA’s Healthy Children Project (HCP), LDA and nine LDA state affiliates joined a sign-on letter from the National Resource Defense Council and the Ecology Center urging Congress to fund the Lead Service Line Replacement program and allow for funding to be used to install filtered drinking water stations in schools and child care centers to prevent lead exposure. 

LDA also joined EarthJustice and the Consumer Federation of America in a letter to the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) urging the CPSC to take further action on banning flame retardant chemicals in consumer products.

Why Did LDA Take This Action?

The mission of LDA’s Healthy Children Project is to make products safer and air, food and water healthier by getting rid of harmful chemicals. Lead is a known neurotoxin and flame retardants have strong links to neurological harm.