News-in-Brief – January 2012

Kline Sets New Path for ESEA Reauthorization

Representative John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, has changed his thinking on the best method to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind). Previously he had directed staff to look at the bill incrementally rather than the usual comprehensive approach to the legislation and had hoped for a bipartisan product. However, the introduction of new comprehensive legislation that represents only Republican input may have further compromised the chances of a reauthorization this year.

Of three smaller targeted ESEA bills introduced in the Committee earlier in 2011, only the one addressing charter schools received bipartisan support. Mr. Kline indicated in late December that attempts to craft bipartisan legislation were unsuccessful, prompting his decision to move forward with or without Democratic support. In response, the Committee’s ranking member Representative George Miller (D-CA) stated this approach will mean a rewrite of the law is not possible in this Congress. An unbiased appraisal would indicate that passage of a bill in 2012 will be very difficult, given the politically charged atmosphere of a presidential election and the partisan nature of the debate.

That said, Chairman Kline released drafts of two larger House bills on January 6. The Student Success Act looks at standards, assessment, accountability, flexibility, and moving some of the current federal functions to states and local school districts. The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act looks at teacher quality, training, professional development and effectiveness, as well as school choice and parent engagement.

To read summaries of these bills or the full draft legislation, go to


“Ability to Benefit” Options Eliminated

The Fiscal Year 2012 (FY2012) omnibus spending bill passed in late December included changes in eligibility for Pell Grants and other Title IV federal student financial aid. One particular provision could have a serious impact on students and adults with learning disabilities. Under this provision, eligibility for aid is eliminated for students without a high school diploma or GED who previously qualified under the “ability to benefit” allowance. According to the National Skills Coalition, this change could adversely affect as many as 100,000 students, including working adults participating in career pathway programs.

In October 2010, the U.S. Department of Education issued final rules based on a new ability to benefit option adopted by Congress in 2008. Those rules allowed students without a high school diploma or GED to show their ability to benefit from federal student aid by either passing a federally approved test or the newer 2010 option allowing students to qualify after successfully completing six credits toward a certificate or degree.

Under the recently passed bill, these options for establishing general eligibility for federal student financial aid are eliminated for students who initially enroll in a program of study on or after July 1, 2012. Neither option–testing or earning credits–will now be available to satisfy the academic qualifications for receiving Title IV student aid funds. A student will need to have a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent, or have been home schooled, to meet the eligibility criterion.

LDA is discussing possible fixes for this potentially damaging policy change. We will keep you posted on actions the organization will be taking in the near future.

Harkin Introduces Keeping All Students Safe Act

In late December, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 2020). This bill focuses on restricting the use of seclusion and restraint. Specifically, it would prohibit the use of seclusion in locked and unattended rooms, prohibit the use of mechanical and chemical restraints and physical restraints that restrict breathing, and prohibit aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety.

The wide variation in state policies on the use of seclusion and restraint prompted the introduction of federal legislation, and the reporting of a number of serious incidents as a result of the use of these techniques. Bills introduced in the House and Senate in the previous Congress did not see action. Representative George Miller (D-CA), ranking member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, introduced a new bill (H.R. 1381) in April 2011, and S. 2020 is similar to the House version.

S. 2020 would allow the use of restraint only in emergency situations and would require staff to be trained and certified through state-approved crisis intervention programs. Teams developing Individualized Education Programs or behavioral plans would be prohibited from including the use of these techniques in those documents. Parents of the restrained student would be notified on the day of the occurrence, and a debriefing session would be held as soon as possible afterward for the student, parents, and school personnel involved in or having responsibilities related to the event.

The bill also encourages the use of school-wide preventative methods, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. In addition, schools and districts would collect data on the use of restraint and seclusion to inform further practice.


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