by Myrna Mandlawitz, Esq., LDA Policy Director
The 2018 midterm elections brought significant changes in Congress. First, the majority shifted to the Democrats in the House of Representatives (235 D; 199 R; 1 race still undecided). Second, the Republican majority in the Senate increased slightly (53 R; 47 D). Most important to LDA, there are some new members with personal and professional connections that may establish them as new congressional champions for individuals with learning disabilities.
The best way to influence and educate members of Congress – and local and state legislators – is to build good relationships early on and nurture those connections. Readers will find below a sampling of new members who have specific background or experience in issues related to advocating for and supporting individuals with disabilities or issues of importance to LDA members. There are a number of other new members on both sides of the aisle who support more funding for K-12 and higher education, including the IDEA, have interests in issues such as mental health services, career-technical education, job training and apprenticeship programs, and disrupting the school to prison pipeline, or have family members or have themselves been educators.
In addition to these new members, it is important for LDA members to identify if their representatives and/or senators are on congressional committees that deal with issues of importance to individuals with learning disabilities. As soon as the committee rosters are finalized in early February, LDA will post those lists under the Advocacy tab on the website at www.ldaamerica.org.
Members with disability-specific platforms, interests, and/or experience include:
- Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ): Sister is a special education teacher, mother was a teacher, and brother is a district superintendent.
- Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA): Has several family members with disabilities; supports full funding of IDEA and including mental health in all healthcare discussions.
- Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-CA): Supports right to independent living for individuals with disabilities, fully funding the IDEA, and attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
- Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT): Was 2016 National Teacher of the Year and views public education as “an investment in future generations.”
- Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN): Has son with learning disabilities, and mother and wife were teachers.
- Sen. Cindy Smith (D-MN): Supports increased mental health services in schools.
- Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN): Has teenage son with Down Syndrome.
- Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS): Established a foundation that raises private funds for public school projects.
- Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND): Has stated “an exceptional education is one of the most basic and important functions of government.”
- Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ): Sponsored several bills in the state legislature on instructing students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities.
- Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH): Supports having a trained mental health professional in every school and expanding career and technical education and apprenticeship programs.
- Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA): Supports criminal justice reforms that address disproportionate impact on certain groups, including individuals with disabilities; supports strong ADA enforcement.
- Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA): Led two class action suits to enforce rights of students with disabilities; served on two statewide commissions charged with implementing the IDEA.
- Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN): Parents were career educators.
- Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX): Concerns include closing achievement gaps for students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners.
- Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX): Worked on research to dismantle the school to prison pipeline.
For any readers who have one of these members as their Representatives or Senators, LDA would be pleased to work with you to initiate a conversation with those offices. LDA members’ advocacy is critical to ensuring strong legislative solutions that support children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities.