by Myrna Mandlawitz, LDA Policy Director
After a long rest from late July through Labor Day, Congress returned to Washington with a full agenda. The Department of Education also has been busy since the beginning of September. LDA works hard to monitor and act on any legislation and federal agency activities that impact the lives of individuals with learning disabilities.
First and foremost, LDA has been keeping a close watch on health care and tax reform. After several attempts by Congress to pass major changes to the Affordable Care Act, even a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by Senators Alexander (R-TN) and Murray (D-WA) to stabilize the health care marketplace did not pass. LDA played an active role in opposing provisions that would have changed the face of the Medicaid program. Medicaid is relied upon by some adults with disabilities and also used to provide IDEA services for Medicaid-eligible children with disabilities in schools across the country. Although no specific health care bill is moving right now, changes in Medicaid could be proposed through tax legislation or be attached to other legislative vehicles, so the threat is still very much alive.
On the tax front, we are paying particular attention to several backdoor attempts to provide tuition tax credits or other private school voucher provisions. LDA has a strong position statement supporting the use of public funds only for public education. While the organization supports parents’ right to choose private school as the best option for their child, LDA believes the small amount of federal dollars that goes to public education – two cents of each tax dollar – cannot be diverted to private schools, some of which have discriminatory admissions policies or are unable to provide appropriate services by qualified educators for students with learning disabilities.
We’re also working on the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, sponsored by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX), with bipartisan co-sponsorship from close to 90 other members of the House. This is an instance where the name of the bill does not tell the full story. This legislation deals mainly with architectural barriers and prohibits civil actions by the complainant unless certain notice requirements are met and the owner of the property has had considerable time to address the issue. In other words, the bill delays and may remove the ability for individuals to have a problem remediated. Although LDA generally does not work on issues related to physical barriers, we view this as a possible first attempt to weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we are working with partner organizations to stop this intrusion.
Issues related to federal funding are ever-present. We are working with partner organizations across many sectors of government to raise the very tight budget caps currently in place, so LDA’s priority programs can receive adequate funding to ensure services for individuals with learning disabilities.
Department of Education Activities
LDA was pleased to participate in an invitation-only roundtable with U.S. Secretary of Education DeVos and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and his wife, Dr. Laura Cassidy. We were joined by five other organizations, Ruth Ryder, Acting Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and Kim Richey, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), to discuss the state of play for individuals with learning disabilities. The meeting was held in October to coincide with National LD Awareness Month and National Dyslexia Awareness Month. A spirited conversation was held, focused mainly on issues related to dyslexia. LDA and partner National Center for Learning Disabilities worked to provide information about the broader concerns related to all learning disabilities.
LDA also just submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education on proposed grant priorities issued by the Secretary. The Department gives out approximately $700 million a year in competitive grants for education research and demonstration projects on best practices and for national technical assistance centers and other research-to-practice projects. LDA’s comments are available under the “News” section on the LDA website.
These are just a few of the many public policy actions in which LDA is engaged. To follow our activities and for more information, please check out the monthly online “LDA Legislative News” and plan to join us for public policy sessions at the upcoming national conference in Atlanta!