News-in-Brief – April 2011

The Federal Funding Saga Continues

After repeated continuing resolutions (CR), Congress appears ready to pass a bill that will fund the government until September 30, the final day of Fiscal Year 2011. Specifics were not available at the time of this article. However, the overall cut to domestic programs will be about $42 billion, with $17.8 billion from mandatory or statutory changes. The overall amount also includes an across-the-board cut of one percent to all programs. As part of the deal, the Senate will take separate votes on several policy riders, including repeal of funds for health care reform and funding for family planning.

In the meantime, work proceeds on Fiscal Year 2012. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced the committee’s budget resolution. The budget resolution states congressional funding priorities and includes only one binding provision, the bottom line amount that is given to the appropriations committees to spend on all federal programs.

The FY 2012 House majority’s plan assumes a cut in discretionary education and training funding of $16.7 billion (18 percent) below the Congressional Budget Office’s March 2011 baseline. The plan also assumes large and unspecified cuts in mandatory education and training spending. In addition, Pell grants for higher education would be returned to the levels prior to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which would result in a significant cut in funding in the maximum award amount.

The House will vote on this plan in late April. A Senate bill has not yet been introduced.

EEOC Issues New ADA Regulations

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 became effective on January 1, 2009. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was tasked with developing conforming regulations, which were just issued in March 2011. The ADAAA overturned several Supreme Court cases which Congress believed relied on too narrow an interpretation of “disability,” thus denying protections, including some individuals with learning disabilities. Based on the statutory requirements, the regulations set forth a list of principles to guide the determination of whether a person has a disability.

The regulations cite language that will assist in better protections for individuals with specific learning disabilities: “For the majority of the population, the basic mechanics of reading and writing do not pose extraordinary lifelong challenges; rather, recognizing and forming letters and words are effortless, unconscious, automatic processes. Because specific learning disabilities are neurologically-based impairments, the process of reading for an individual with a reading disability (e.g. dyslexia) is word-by-word, and otherwise cumbersome, painful, deliberate and slowthroughout life. The Committee expects that individuals with specific learning disabilities that substantially limit a major life activity will be better protected under the amended Act.”

In addition, the regulations specifically reject illustrative cases decided before passage of the 2008 amendments. In one of those casesGonzales v. National Bd. of Med. Examiners, 225 F.3d 620 (6th Cir. 2000)the court found that an individual with a diagnosed learning disability was not substantially limited after considering the impact of self accommodations that allowed him to read and achieve academic success. The 2008 amendments change this interpretation: “Individuals diagnosed with dyslexia or other learning disabilities will typically be substantially limited in performing activities such as learning, reading, and thinking when compared to most people in the general population, particularly when the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures, including therapies, learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications, assistive devices (e.g., audio recordings, screen reading devices, voice activated software), studying longer, or receiving more time to take a test, are disregarded as required under the ADA Amendments Act.”

For more information on the new regulations, including fact sheets and question and answer documents, go to www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/adaaa_fact_sheet.cfm.

Legislation Addresses Cumulative Graduation Rate

A new bill just introduced in the House and Senate would codify and improve upon a 2008 U.S Department of Education regulation establishing a uniform method of calculating high school graduation rates. The Every Student Counts Act also sets meaningful graduation rate goals and growth targets for all students, requires equal weighting of graduation rates and standardized test scores for accountability purposes, and addresses the issue of students who need more than four years to graduate.

H.R. 1419, introduced in the House by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), and S. 767, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), would require all states to use the same formula to calculate graduation rates. The bill sets a graduation rate goal of 90 percent for all students. Schools, districts, and states with graduation rates below 90 percent, in the aggregate or for any subgroup, would be required to increase their rate an average of three percentage points per year to meet adequate yearly progress.

Of specific importance to LDA members, the bill recognizes that some students will be able to receive a regular high school diploma if given more than the typical four years to reach that goal. Every Student Counts includes a cumulative graduation rate provision allowing schools, districts, and states to receive credit for students who take longer to graduate. The sponsors hope this provision also will provide a greater incentive for the creation of programs to serve students who have already dropped out, are over-age or have insufficient credits.

As of October 2010, seven statesMassachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Washingtonhave extended graduation rates under the 2008 Regulations. This bill will provide additional flexibility to states by giving them credit for students who graduate in more than four years without requiring states to seek approval from ED to use an extended-year graduation.

Mental Health Awareness Day Highlights Childhood Trauma

The Learning Disabilities Association of America once again is a supporting organization of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. The annual event which this year takes place on May 3 was begun in 2005 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The purpose of the day is to raise awareness that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth, and this year’s specific theme is “Building Resilience for Young Children Dealing with Trauma.”

As resilient as children may be, even at a very young age they can experience trauma that will have long-term effects on their behavioral health. Research shows that when exposed to traumatic events, even children as young as 18 months can develop serious psychological problems later in childhood and in adulthood. As they grow, these children take with them the effects of traumatic events, and are more likely to experience problems with substance abuse, depression, and stress management as a result.

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day began as a grassroots initiative designed to demonstrate that children with mental health needs can thrive in their communities. Over the past six years, Awareness Day’s grassroots activities have continued to flourish. In 2010, nearly 11,000 children participated in Awareness Day events nationwide, and the number of national organizations collaborating on this public awareness effort has risen from four in 2005 to 88 in 2011.

In addition to a large national event in Washington, DC, communities around the country will be holding Awareness Day events. SAMHSA also will release its annual short report on data demonstrating the effectiveness of Systems of Care and National Child Traumatic Stress Network grantees in treating children with trauma.

For more information, go to www.samhsa.gov/children.

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