News-in-Brief – March 2013

“Fiscal March Madness” Threatens Key Programs

A highly regarded DC budget guru has labeled the current federal fiscal woes “Fiscal March Madness.” With sequestration, no final decisions on current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 funding, and introduction of FY 2014 budget bills, this is an apt description for what may happen if Congress doesn’t take charge of its fiscal responsibilities. Since the passage of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), Congress has been unable to reach agreement on how to sensibly address deficit reduction. This poses a serious threat to all federal programs.

On March 1, sequestration – across the board cuts of 5 percent to all “programs, projects, and activities” of the federal government – went into effect. Only certain entitlement programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and Pell Grants, currently are exempted. A 5 percent cut means a reduction in the Department of Education budget of approximately $2.51 billion. In Fiscal Years 2014-2021, instead of across the board cuts the federal spending caps would be lowered further, resulting in an even tighter squeeze on spending for education, health, and all other government functions. While education is somewhat insulated from immediate cuts since most all education programs are forward funding, current funded programs such as Impact Aid for districts with military installations and tribal lands have already felt the hit. Forward funding means the Department of Education actually sends checks out to school districts in July rather than January. However, because of local district budgeting schedules, many districts made adjustments in early 2012 for school year 2012-13, anticipating sequestration in the middle of the school year.

Repealing the entire sequester would cost $960 billion. The Administration would address this through 50 percent new revenues and 50 percent in spending cuts. The Republican leadership continues to say it opposes any new revenues. This doesn’t bode well for a bipartisan deal.

While sequestration plays out, the government is operating currently under a Continuing Resolution (CR) which will expire on March 27. A CR is legislation passed by Congress to keep government agencies running when a new budget has not been enacted. FY 2013 began on October 1, 2012, but Congress was unable to agree on appropriations (spending) levels, so the CR went into effect. Now Congress is poised to pass another CR possibly for the remainder of FY 2013, which also is problematic since it is time for Congress to decide funding levels for FY 2014 which begins on October 1, 2013. Adding to the confusion, the president’s proposed budget for FY 2014, usually released in early February, is now not expected until early April. The House and Senate budget committees, which generally follow the release of the president’s budget proposal with their own budget plans, have moved ahead and are well on the way to passing budget bills.

There are stark differences in the budget plans coming out of the House and Senate. The House budget would lower the cap on non-defense domestic discretionary (NDD) spending each year by $55 billion. The current caps only exist through FY 2021, which would mean a cut over eight years in NDD of $440 billion below the current caps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee, would extend the NDD caps for two more years, which could mean cuts over ten years of $554 billion. If the 5 percent sequestration cuts are not factored in, the Ryan budget would result in a cut over ten years of $1 trillion. For FY 2014, beginning on October 1, 2013, the new spending cap would be 12 percent below the sequestration level.
By contrast the Senate budget committee under the chairmanship of Patty Murray (D-WA) would replace sequestration with “a balanced mix of spending and revenue savings.” This presents a key difference with the House Republican budget which contains no new revenue, relying only on spending cuts to balance the budget.

Federal employees have already received notices of furloughs for the rest of the year, ranging from five days to more than twenty days depending on the agency. Citizens will begin to feel the pain of sequestration and tightened spending when they travel through airports and see other services decline. On a somewhat comical, but very annoying, note, Congress has closed certain entrances to the congressional office buildings during morning hours, adding sometimes 30 minutes to the time it takes to keep appointments and attend hearings on Capitol Hill.

LDA will keep you posted as Congress attempts to bring some order back to the federal fiscal house.


House Moves Workforce Investment Act

The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, the major federal program supporting workforce development, is receiving renewed interest in the U.S. House of Representatives. The major provisions of the law are the One-Stop system through which state and local training and employment activities are provided, adult education and literacy activities, and employment-related services to individuals with disabilities through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. After contentious debate and passage in the House Education and Workforce Committee on a vote of 23-0 with no Democrats voting in favor, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act (SKILLS Act, H.R. 803) is expected to pass in the full House this week.

WIA technically expired at the end of Fiscal Year 2004 (FY 2003). However, Congress has maintained funding for the program through the appropriations process. This current legislative activity is an attempt to reauthorize the law. The workforce advocacy community – including the Employment Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities of which LDA is an active member – would like Congress to reauthorize WIA. However, advocates have expressed strong opposition to H.R. 803.

The SKILLS Act would repeal 24 programs and combine funding from 19 programs to create a new Workforce Investment Fund (WIF). While vocational rehabilitation (VR) and adult literacy would not be part of the new consolidated fund, the legislation would create a generic state workforce that has not served individuals with disabilities well in the past.
H.R. 803 would repeal Title VI of the Rehabilitation Act which authorizes the Supported Employment program for individuals with the most significant disabilities. For these individuals, who often face the greatest challenges in finding and maintaining employment, supported employment provides appropriate continuous assistance critical to success in competitive integrated employment.

Title VI also includes the Projects with Industry program which actively involves businesses in rehabilitation programs through training and placement services for competitive jobs in the community. By consolidating supported employment into another section of the law that requires state matching funds, these services will be severely limited since many states already are unable to provide the state match and thus do not receive all available federal funds. The CCD Employment Task Force also has expressed concern about the proposed elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which serves many individuals with disabilities. This program helps low-income, unemployed older Americans (age 55 and older) return to the workplace by connecting them to internship/training experiences in their communities, which in turn may translate to permanent employment.

One positive note in the SKILLS Act is an increased emphasis on transitional services to students with disabilities. Whereas current law considers transition activities to be an applicable VR service, WIA does not place any specific requirements on states. The SKILLS Act would require states to set aside at least 10 percent of their VR state grant funds for transition services, include in their VR plans strategies for serving the transition population, and a description of how VR services will be coordinated with transition services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Senate has not introduced any bills to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act since the beginning of the 113th Congress in January. LDA will keep you informed as any legislation moves ahead.


Education Department Issues Regulations on Parental Consent

The U.S. Department of Education has revised regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regarding certain parental consent requirements. These specific requirements address public agencies’ access to a child’s or parent’s public benefits or insurance, such as Medicaid, to pay for certain IDEA services.

Section 300.154 of the IDEA regulations describe methods for ensuring services to children with disabilities, including the responsibility of public agencies other than state departments of education to provide or pay for special education and related services. For children covered by public benefits or insurance, the public agency may use those benefits to provide or pay for services.

In 2006, a new provision was added in the regulations to implement the changes in the law enacted under the 2004 IDEA reauthorization. That provision required a public agency wishing to access the child’s or parent’s public benefits or insurance to obtain parental consent each time the agency wanted to access those benefits and to notify parents that their refusal to allow access would not relieve the agency of its responsibility to provide services at no cost to parents.

The requirement to obtain consent each time benefits would be accessed proved to be very cumbersome for some school districts, increasing paperwork and in some instances unnecessarily delaying the process of accessing these benefits. On the other hand, the Department was sensitive to ensuring parents’ rights were not diminished. As with all proposed changes to regulations, the Department sent the proposed amendment out for public comment and weighed these concerns in determining the revised regulation.

The major changes to the regulation are as follows:

  • New language was added to clarify the public agency must obtain written parental consent to access public benefits and insurance for the first time. That consent must specify:
    • The “personally identifiable information” that may be disclosed by law, the purpose of the disclosure (such as billing for services), and the agency to which the disclosure will be made.
    • The parent understands and agrees that the agency may access benefits to pay for IDEA services.
  • Before accessing benefits for the first time and annually after that, the agency must provide written notification to the parents, including statements describing:
    • Parental consent provisions in the law.
    • The “no cost” provisions.
    • Parents’ right to withdraw consent to disclosure of “personally identifiable information” to the agency administering the benefits.
    • The agency’s continued responsibility to provide services at no cost to parents even if parents refuse or withdraw consent.

Read the summaries of public comments and the Department of Education’s responses, as well as the specific language of the new regulation: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/02/14/2013-03443/assistance-to-states-for-the-education-of-children-with-disabilities.


Research Supports Strong Career and Technical Education

At the recent national conference of the Association for Career and Technical Education, Dr. James R. Stone, III, Director of the National Research Center on Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville, made compelling arguments for increased access for all students to career and technical education (CTE) courses. He pointed to research that shows increased engagement in learning, improved academic and technical achievement, increased high school graduation rates, and better transition to and completion of community college career programs.

Dr. Stone indicated that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for 2010-2020, most jobs being created require only high school graduation or a two-year degree. One-quarter to one-third of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree for entry, and 30 percent will require a two-year degree. While 42 percent of people entering the workforce have a bachelor’s degree or more, there is only a 29 percent demand in the labor market.

Despite this employment picture, Dr. Stone noted the American public education system is organized to get every student into a four-year college. He stated further that the education system has not done a good job of making students aware of “sub-baccalaureate opportunities.” More important, he raised the following question: If only 40 percent of 27 year olds have college degrees, what are we doing for the remaining 60 percent?

Stone says there are three types of skills individuals need: academic, occupational (“soft” skills; employability skills), and specific technical skills (skills valued by employers). He believes thirty years of education reform have resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum, where education leaders believe “rigor” in education equals “more” education and which has produced no better results. Stone supports a systems approach to “college and career readiness” that makes high school matter and that engages students, improves academic, occupational, and technical achievement, and enhances transition.

To reach that goal, he proposes rigorous career development beginning in the middle grades, with individual academic career plans that drive program choices and student course assignments. Statistics on student engagement are much worse for boys than for girls, and CTE courses have a strong effect on keeping boys in schools. Having a plan that includes these courses is very important.

Stone supports ongoing professional development for CTE teachers to learn how to successfully integrate mathematics and literacy skills into CTE courses. Researchers also are looking at how to better integrate science into CTE coursework. He points to the Common Core State Standards that call for the development of career-ready individuals proficient in academic and technical skills. He spoke about the importance of work-based learning – internships, coop learning, apprenticeships, and school-based programs – where by the ninth grade students are gaining experiences in workplace settings.

The field of research on CTE and students with learning disabilities is still evolving. LDA supports a wide array of academic options for students with learning disabilities, and skills and workplace experience through CTE hold great promise.

Learn more about career and technical education, and the work of the National Research Center on Career and Technical Education at www.nrccte.org.


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