News-in-Brief – January 2013

Sequestration Delayed, Not Resolved

As Americans were about to ring in 2013, Congress agreed to a late-night “fiscal cliff” bill that delayed, rather than eliminated, sequestration. Sequestration – automatic across-the-board cuts in most federal programs – has been a looming threat since passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the failure of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to reach an agreement on the Act’s mandate of $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over ten years. In December at the eleventh hour, Congress simply delayed implementation of sequestration until March.

Sequestration was set to take effect originally on January 2, 2013, with across-the-board cuts in most defense and non-defense discretionary programs of 8.2 percent. The Committee for Education Funding, the national education funding coalition of over 100 member organizations, now projects the revised cut for non-defense discretionary programs will be 5.9 percent. Under the bill passed by Congress in December, the sequester is reduced by $24 billion for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY 2013: October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013). Thus, the total sequester amount will be $85.33 billion, with half of that amount – $42.67 billion – coming from non-defense discretionary programs, including education, health, social services, transportation, environment, and other non-security programs. For the Department of Education alone, the cut would be approximately $2.95 billion.

In addition to sequestration, Congress must deal with a number of other fiscal issues in 2013. Following is a calendar of important dates to watch:

  • February 4, 2013: This is the date on which the president is required to release his proposed budget for FY 2014 (October 1, 2013 – September 30, 2014). Already it looks like this date will slip, possibly by several weeks.
  • Sometime in late February 2013, the government will reach the debt ceiling, the event that prompted the Budget Control Act in 2011.
  • March 1, 2013: Sequestration cuts are scheduled to take effect.
  • March 27, 2013: On this date, the current FY 2013 Continuing Resolution will expire. The Continuing Resolution is a bill passed in late September to keep the government operating while Congress tried to hammer out appropriations (spending) levels for FY 2013, which began on October 1, 2012. Congress can try to resolve spending levels for FY 2013 or may simply pass another Continuing Resolution for several months or even until the end of the fiscal year.
  • April 15, 2013: This is the statutory deadline for Congress to enact an FY 2014 Budget Resolution. The Budget Resolution is a non-binding bill that defines congressional spending priorities for the next fiscal year. The only binding part is the bottom line amount available to the Appropriations Committees to fund government programs.
  • May 15, 2013: On this date, the House may officially begin to consider appropriations bills for FY 2014, which will be tricky if they have not yet resolved spending for FY 2013.
  • October 1, 2013: This is the first day of Fiscal Year 2014.
  • December 31, 2013: “Tax extenders” will expire, as Congress just debated during the December fiscal discussions, including the following related to education:
    • a deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers;
    • the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition related expenses; and,
    • the tax credit for research and experimentation expenses
  • Also on December 31, 2013, the extended Unemployment Insurance benefits will expire.

LDA has been involved in working on these fiscal issues particularly through its involvement in the NDD (Non-Defense Discretionary) Summit, a coalition of organizations representing interests in all the government agencies, including education, health and human services, and labor. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), the large umbrella disability coalition of which LDA is active member, is also heavily involved in this discussion. We will continue to educate Congress about the serious consequences of proposed cuts. We encourage LDA members to inform their Representatives and Senators about the impact on the lives of individuals with learning disabilities of any cuts in education, vocational rehabilitation, and other critical services.


113th Congress Brings New Potential Allies

The 113th Congress (counting from the 1st Congress in 1789) convened officially on January 3, 2013. Each congressional election brings new faces to Washington and gives LDA an opportunity to educate more Senators and Representatives about the importance of issues related to individuals with learning disabilities. LDA Policy Director Myrna Mandlawitz has reviewed the biographies of new members with a special eye to their connections to education and disability. Continue reading for a few highlights thus far.

  • Eric Swalwell (D-CA): Supports adult and continuing education, universal access to Pre-K, and adequate and increasing federal funding of education, especially for blended learning, differential learning, and STEM.
  • David Valadao (R-CA): Supports more vocational and trade school options.
  • Julia Brownley (D-CA): Chaired State Assembly’s education committee. Former school board member and strong education advocate.
  • Gloria McLeod (D-CA): President of community college board. Supports investment in early childhood and school-to-work.
  • Mark Takano (D-CA): High school teacher. President of community college board of trustees. Supports job training and career and technical education.
  • Ron DeSantis (R-FL): Former high school teacher.
  • Luke Messer (R-IL): As a state legislator, got state’s dropout age raised from 16 to 18.
  • Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI): Worked with at-risk children. Served on education committee in state legislature.
  • Tammy Duckworth (D-IL): Supports Head Start and IDEA, with appropriate funding.
  • Brad Schneider (D-IL): Strong opponent of cuts to SSI and pro civil rights for people with disabilities.
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE): School board member and member of higher education commission.

As we find more members who support LDA’s purpose and mission, we will update this list.

In addition, appointment of chairmen and ranking members (the top committee member from the minority party) has begun. In the House where the Republicans are in the majority, all committee chairmen are from that party and all ranking members are Democrats. In the Senate, the opposite is true, where all committee chairmen are Democrats and ranking members are Republicans.

Following are some of the key committee chairmen and ranking members. LDA members may wish to take note of which of these critical positions are held by senators or representatives from their states and districts.

  • House Appropriations: Chairman, Harold Rogers (R-KY); Ranking Member, Nita Lowey (D-NY)
    • Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-Health and Human Services-Education: Chairman, Jack Kingston (R-GA); Ranking Member, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
  • House Budget: Chairman, Paul Ryan (R-WI); Ranking Member, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
  • House Education and Workforce Committee: Chairman, John Kline (R-MN); Ranking Member, George Miller (D-CA).
  • Senate Appropriations: Chairman, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); Ranking Member, undecided at press time, but probably Richard Shelby (R-AL).
    • Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-Health and Human Services-Education: Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA); Ranking Member, Richard Shelby (R-AL).
  • Senate Budget: Chairman, Patty Murray (D-WA); Ranking Member, Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions: Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA); Ranking Member, Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Focus on Teacher Evaluation Increases

Teacher evaluation has been a hot topic in education for some time, given the “highly qualified teacher” standards under No Child Left Behind. The issue of teacher, principal, and other staff evaluations gained in importance with the approval of waivers of certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act for the majority of states over the last year. To receive a waiver, states and school districts are required to develop, pilot, and implement teacher and principal evaluations meeting a number of specific criteria. While there is no distinction between evaluation of general and special education teachers in the waiver requirements, questions have been raised about whether any consideration should be given to the various roles special educators assume in schools and classrooms.

The Council for Exception Children (CEC) recently released a detailed position on special education teacher evaluation. This effort began in 2009 and initially involved CEC’s policy and advocacy staff and an expert advisory group, including members from districts piloting and implementing teacher evaluation systems. The organization continued the dialogue in 2011 with CEC’s board of directors requesting the drafting of a policy statement. LDA recently participated in a discussion with CEC and other interested organizations about the statement.

The introductory material explains the position statement in concise terms: “CEC believes special education teacher evaluations are only effective if they are based on an accurate understanding of special education teachers’ diverse roles, measure and support the effective use of evidence-based interventions and practices, include accurate and reliable indicators of special education teacher contributions to student growth, and promote teaching as a profession in order to address the persistent problem of special education retention.”

CEC concludes teacher evaluation systems must:

  • Include fundamental systemwide components;
  • Identify the complex role of the special education teacher;
  • Measure the use of evidence-based practices;
  • Recognize the professionalism of special education teachers; and,
  • Continually incorporate findings from research.

In addition to this effort, a number of groups are looking at the larger issue of teacher and principal evaluation (See October News in Brief, Principals Offer Framework for Evaluation). Other groups representing specialized instructional support personnel, such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, are developing models that their members can use in helping school districts determine the most effective ways to evaluate the effectiveness of these personnel.

The question of personnel effectiveness will continue to be discussed, with or without a full reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind). Ensuring fair and useful evaluations that support staff to improve their practice is critical to improving student outcomes.

For more information, go to:


LDA Expresses Concerns on School-to-Prison Pipeline

At a recent Senate hearing, witnesses expressed serious concerns about the growing school-to-prison pipeline. Testimony highlighted the disproportionate effects of zero tolerance and other school discipline policies on certain student populations, including African-American males and students with disabilities. This is an issue of critical concern for LDA members since data show that students with disabilities, many of whom have learning disabilities, are suspended or expelled at twice the rate of non-disabled students.

LDA weighed in on the discussion through written testimony from the organization and a strong statement from past president Connie Parr, who wrote about her experiences as a pediatric nurse practitioner in working with vulnerable children and youth with learning disabilities and ADHD. In its statement to the Subcommittee, LDA noted:

“…Children with learning disabilities are more likely than other adolescents to experience low self-esteem, depression and poor peer relationships. Some children with learning disabilities may find it difficult to do well in school and may experience academic failure. They may express their frustrations through inappropriate behavior, which in turn increases their risk of being expelled or dropping out of school. Children with learning disabilities are arrested and enter the juvenile justice system at higher rates than their non-disabled peers.”

LDA proposed better early identification of learning disabilities, ADHD, and mental health issues, additional specialized instructional support services, and strong family and community support systems.

At the hearing, witnesses focused on the need to support students’ social and emotional needs and the development of positive social skills. They called for more school counselors and school social workers, often the first personnel to be eliminated with shrinking school budgets. Witnesses also called for better early childhood programs and a focus on the whole child and the need for partnerships among schools, community agencies, businesses, and the religious community.

Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Danny Davis (D-IL) testified about legislation to keep students in school and, for those who do end up in the juvenile justice system, to address their eventual reentry into school and the community. Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, and Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, gave compelling testimony about the over-reliance on suspension and expulsion as means of discipline. They noted the vast majority of disciplinary actions in schools – nearly 60 percent – are for minor infractions rather than weapons, drugs, or violence. Of the students who eventually end up in the juvenile system, 15 percent have been suspended 11 or more times.

Most compelling was the testimony of Edward Ward, a college sophomore who grew up in Chicago. As an honor student, Mr. Ward saw many of his fellow classmates being disciplined for minor incidents. He has worked since high school through the Dignity in Schools Campaign to help mentor and keep young African-American males in school and on the path to graduation.

LDA will work with any members of Congress and with other like-minded organizations to ensure students with learning disabilities are not disproportionately targeted for harsh discipline, especially suspension and expulsion. LDA will continue its strong advocacy for appropriate services to support all students to graduate from high school and productive adult lives.

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