News-in-Brief – March 2011

Striving Readers Funding Jeopardized

LDA knows more than most organizations about the difficulties children, youth, and adults encounter if they struggle with reading and writing. To address this critical issue at the secondary level, President George W. Bush proposed the Striving Readers pilot program. In 2010, the pilot was reborn as a more comprehensive literacy initiative covering birth through grade twelve. Now, as forty-six states are using these funds to develop comprehensive literacy programs, funding for the Striving Readers program may be a victim of efforts to address the federal deficit.

Striving Readers funds first took a hit when the Education Jobs bill was passed in August 2010. Congress rescinded $50 million from the Fiscal Year 2010 (FY 2010) funds for Striving Readers to help pay for the jobs bill, which provided $100 billion to create or save education jobs for the 2010-11 school year. While the jobs bill was a worthy cause, reducing Striving Readers funds affects the resources available to educators as they attempt to provide students a strong educational foundation.

Since that time Striving Readers has been continually on the chopping block. In December 2010 the Appropriations Committee included a $25 million cut to the program in its FY 2011 spending bill. In February 2011 the House passed a continuing resolution (H.R. 1) to keep the government running until the end of FY 2011 (September 30, 2011), and that bill would rescind $189 million already passed for FY 2010 and eliminate the program in 2011. The Senate attempted to restore the program to a funding level of $200 million in its alternative to H.R. 1, but that measure did not pass.

LDA has consistently supported this important program since its members are fully aware that reading and writing are keys to success. The organization is working in a large coalition of national organizations fighting attempts to eliminate Striving Readers and to make the case that this program boosts the economy by preparing students for higher education and employment. It is unclear when the funding situation will be resolved and the determination regarding this program will be made, but it is clear that important education programs such as Striving Readers cannot be sacrificed in the name of deficit reduction.

Federal Budget Standoff Continues

Congress has been trying to set the budget for Fiscal Year 2011 (FY 2011) since the new fiscal year began on October 1, 2010. They have passed five continuing resolutions (CR), bills that keep the government operating until the House and Senate can agree on a complete budget package. The current CR is set to expire on March 18. The House Appropriations Committee has introduced another CR (H.J. Res. 48) for three weeks until April 8, which contains an additional $6.1 billion in spending cuts.

According to House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), the proposed bill would cut $2 billion for each week of funding, “to continue efforts to rein in spending and put a dent in our massive $1.5 trillion deficit.” The cuts in H.J. Res. 48 include funding rescissions, reductions, and program terminations. The bill also eliminates earmark accounts within the Agriculture, Commerce/Justice/Science, Financial Services/General Government, and Interior subcommittee jurisdictions.

The House passed a spending bill (H.R. 1) in February that would cut $62 billion by the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2011). The bill failed when it reached the Senate, and a Senate Democratic alternative also failed.

There is no end in sight for the budget standoff, with conservative members of Congress pushing for deeper cuts and moderates worried that proposed cuts go too far. In the meantime, school districts are moving into the next budget cycle and need to have some closure, so they can determine what federal funds will be available.

LDA continues to monitor this situation very closely and will keep you posted in each issue of News in Brief.

Medical Student Wins Testing Accommodations

After two previous attempts, a Yale School of Medicine student with dyslexia has won the right to test accommodations for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. The settlement was reached by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) on February 22 based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Frederick Romberg will be given double the standard testing time and a separate area in which to take the exam. The Board must provide a reasonable testing schedule, not to exceed eight hours a day. Beyond these accommodations, Mr. Romberg will be tested under the same conditions as all other students.

This case is significant not only for medical students, but as precedent for students who may need accommodations on other standardized professional examinations. Under the agreement, the NBME may only “request documentation about the existence of a physical or mental impairment, whether the applicant’s impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities” under the ADA definitions, “and whether and how the impairment limits the applicant’s ability to take the medical boards under standard conditions.”

The Board also is directed to give strong consideration to professionals who have observed the applicant and who, based on their clinical judgment, believe accommodations are necessary for the individual to adequately demonstrate his or her mastery. These recommendations must be based on generally accepted diagnostic criteria and supported by reasonable documentation. In addition, the NBME must “carefully consider all evidence indicating whether an individual’s ability to read is substantially limited within the meaning of the ADA, including the extent to which it is restricted as to the conditions, manner or duration as compared to the reading ability of most people.”

The settlement was reached under Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by private testing entities that administer examinations related to professional licensing. The new regulations applicable to testing accommodations will go into effect on March 15, 2011. To read the settlement agreement, go to http://www.ada.gov/nbme.htm

Representative Advocates for Effective Transition

As the father of a 21-year old son with Fragile X Syndrome, Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS) is a strong advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities. He has introduced a legislative package of three bills – “Transition toward Excellence, Achievement and Mobility” (TEAM Act) – that would streamline federal programs and services to support students with significant disabilities and focus federal funding on improved outcomes in postsecondary education and integrated employment.

The TEAM Act includes the TEAM-Education Act (H.R. 602), the TEAM-Empowerment Act (H.R. 603), and the TEAM-Employment Act (H.R. 604). The Education Act would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to start transition activities at age 14 and to allow the use of funds to contract with experts in transition. The Empowerment Act creates an adult transition planning process and system of supports under the supervision of state intellectual and development disability agencies. The Employment Act focuses on a system-change initiative to improve coordination of agency services toward integrated living and employment.

As chairman of the bipartisan Fragile X congressional caucus, Rep. Harper led an effort in Fiscal Year 2010 that resulted in money for a national postsecondary education demonstration program previously authorized in the Higher Education Act but never funded. The program will allow young adults with intellectual disabilities, including Fragile X, to attend college programs.

The majority of boys with Fragile X syndrome have significant intellectual disabilities, and the spectrum ranges from learning disabilities to severe mental retardation and autism. Girls with Fragile X more often have moderate to mild learning disabilities, while only about one-third have significant intellectual disabilities.

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