News-in-Brief – October 2011

Federal Funding Process Moving Slowly

Once again Congress did not complete work on the new federal Fiscal Year, FY 2012, which began on October 1. Currently the government is operating under a continuing resolution (CR), a stopgap measure that keeps federal agencies open until the final appropriations bills are completed. In the past, a CR usually meant continuation of funding at the level of the previous year. However, this CR which expires on November 18 funds programs at the FY 2011 rate minus 1.503 percent. At the same time, Congress is working to finalize FY 2012 appropriations bills.

In mid-September the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee passed an FY 2012 funding bill on a party line vote of 10-8. Education programs were increased in the bill by $80 million, or 0.1 percent, over FY 2011. Title I and IDEA State grants were level-funded, but Part C would receive an increase of $5 million if this bill were to pass. In addition, the bill includes $4 million for a new special education program, Promoting School Readiness for Minors in SSI (PROMISE), for which $10 million is also included under the Social Security Administration. Several education programs would receive reduced amounts and a few would be eliminated. All that said, it is unlikely the Senate bill will make it to the full Senate any time in the near future.

The House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee just released a draft of its FY 2012 funding bill. In total, the draft bill sets funding at $ 4 billion, or 2.5 percent, below FY 2011. The Department of Education allocation would be 3 percent or $2.4 billion below current levels. The good news is that IDEA and Title I are big winners in this bill with significant increases. The bad news is that those increases come through the elimination of a number of programs and reduction in funding in others. In addition, only Part B would get an increase, whereas the Senate includes a bump for Part C. In another area of concern to LDA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would be cut by 8 percent, with the Center for Mental Health Services losing $212 million.

The process of setting funding levels for FY 2012 is far from over. LDA will be monitoring this closely and will keep you apprised. Whatever the result, it is clear that FY 2012 will be another tough funding year.

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Demands for NCLB Relief Answered

The 2014 deadline requiring 100 percent of students to be proficient in mathematics and reading/language arts is rapidly approaching. This goal, part of the No Child Left Behind Act (the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA), has caused great concern in school districts. In fact, the requirement has caused school districts to narrow curricula and game the system to show improved assessment results. Short of immediate changes to the law, school districts and states are demanding relief.

Congress has been working to reauthorize the ESEA since 2007, but thus far has not reached agreement on how to change the law. The process of reauthorization allows Congress to examine current law and decide what to retain, amend, or eliminate. At the same time Congress has struggled with agreement on changes to the law, the concerns and complaints from school districts and states have grown about the punitive nature of the law. Many states, districts, and schools feel the law has not rewarded their efforts to help students improve.

At the end of August, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education announced relief for states in the form of waivers of certain provisions of the law. On September 23, the Department officially offered states the chance to request “flexibility,” focusing on “improving student learning and increasing the quality of instruction.” It is expected that the vast majority of states will request these waivers, which will be in effect through the end of the 2013-2014 school year with a possible one-year extension.

According to the Department, flexibility will support current state and local efforts in several critical areas of education reform. The three focus areas include transition to college- and career-ready standards and assessments; development of systems that provide differentiated recognition, accountability, and support for schools; and evaluation and support for teacher and principal effectiveness.

States and local districts will continue to be responsible for meeting any provisions of NCLB not specifically waived. For example, states must continue to disaggregate data for the various subgroups. In addition, states must use an n-size that to the maximum extent possible includes all student subgroups in the accountability determinations. In addition, civil rights protections may not be waived.

The Department has made clear that receiving a waiver in no way relieves school districts or states from their responsibilities for the provision of a free appropriate public education and the implementation of IEPs for students with disabilities. If the school was previously identified as needing improvement or was under a corrective action or restructuring decision and the waiver alters that status, any activities under the original status that affected implementation of IEPs must be continued. In other words, implementation of IEPs will be unaffected.

States are currently developing their waiver requests with input from a wide range of stakeholders. Requests may be submitted to the Department of Education in November and again in February 2012. Approvals for the first set of submissions will be announced in January and the second set in April.

Additional information and specifics on the waiver process are available on the U.S. Department of Education web site: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/esea-flexibility/index.html

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School Medicaid Funding May be in Jeopardy

The bipartisan Super Committee (See “Jury is Out on Deficit Reduction Plan,” Sept. 2011 News in Brief), appointed to find $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction, is charged with finding those cuts by examining all programs including entitlements like Medicaid. In the last years of the Bush administration, an attempt was made to eliminate reimbursement for school Medicaid administrative claiming programs. With the help of a broad coalition of like-minded groups, including LDA, that attempt was thwarted. Once again, a strong coalition of national education and health organizations and local school districts are joining together to fight any attempts to reduce access to Medicaid benefits in schools.

The federal and state Medicaid funding partnership represents an efficient and effective funding mechanism. Medicaid reimbursements are the primary source of coverage for health care services for poor children who otherwise have no insurance. In addition, and of particular concern to LDA Members, Medicaid is used in schools to reimburse costs of a number of mandated related services. In fact, school-based Medicaid claiming has a firm legal basis. The Social Security Act clearly prohibits the Secretary of Health and Human Services from denying reimbursement for claims related to eligible services for students with disabilities.

The economic benefits of Medicaid are significant. For every dollar that states are reimbursed for Medicaid, up to two dollars of services are provided, making it one of the most cost effective federal funding programs. With cuts to this program, costs will be shifted to states and local agencies, while achieving no real savings.

In July, 40 members of Congress, led by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), wrote to President Obama and the leadership of the House and Senate. The letter stated that “our policy leaders must consider the collective impact on our children when making spending and revenue choices.” The signers specifically pointed to the fact that in numerous polls, Americans overwhelmingly reject major cuts to programs like Medicaid, Head Start, child nutrition, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and K-12 and higher education.

LDA agrees and is advocating to ensure children and youth are protected as the deficit reduction talks go forward. We are actively engaged in the fight to maintain Medicaid reimbursement for critical services for students with specific learning disabilities.

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LDA Continues Push Against “Chemicals of Concern”

LDA recently authored a letter signed by other like-minded organizations to the White House protesting the inaction of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on a proposed rule to establish a list of “chemicals of concern.” The Environmental Protection Agency sent the proposed rule to OMB for review in May 2010, a process that is supposed to be completed in 90 days. However, 16 months after its transmittal, the rule is still languishing in the bureaucracy. This regulation is critical in that it would provide important information to the public, retailers and manufacturers regarding federal priorities for managing toxic chemical risks, as well as the health and environmental problems associated with the listed chemicals. More….

The regulation would establish a list of “chemicals of concern” which would consist of three chemicals or categories of chemicals:

Bisphenol A (BPA) found in hard plastics, food and soda can linings, and thermal paper receipts,
eight chemicals that are phthalates, plasticizers used in polyvinyl chloride products and in personal care products, and
a class of polybrominateddiphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are flame retardant chemicals used in an array of products.
These chemicals are all widely identified in the United States and other countries as posing significant concerns for human health and have been regulated to varying degrees by the states, federal government and other countries. Of utmost importance to LDA, convincing evidence from animal and human studies shows various PBDEs can interfere with normal brain development and function at environmentally relevant levels of exposure. Emerging and mounting evidence now suggests that BPA and some phthalates may also adversely affect the developing brain.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds more than 90 percent of Americans have detectable levels of PBDEs, BPA and phthalates in their bodies. The CDC further finds that children ages 6 to 11 have twice the levels of these chemicals in their bodies than adults. Children are often more highly exposed to chemicals because they take in more food, air and fluid per pound than adults, and because of their behaviors – putting objects in their mouths and playing on the floor. All three of these chemicals have been found in cord blood, which indicates that babies are being exposed to these chemicals in the womb.

Further, the CDC has found the number of U.S. children with developmental disabilities has risen over the past decade, reaching nearly one in six – or 18 million children – in 2008. The National Academy of Sciences estimates environmental factors, including toxic chemicals, cause or contribute to at least 25 percent of learning and developmental disabilities in American children.

In recent decades, scientists have learned that the developing brain is much more susceptible to toxic substances than the adult brain, and that certain chemicals can have a profound effect on the developing brain at levels once thought to be safe. If chemicals inhibit, interfere with or halt a developmental process in utero or during childhood, the damage may be permanent.

Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) may be at even greater risk from toxic chemical exposures than children without disabilities. Many children with IDD progress through developmental phases more slowly – taking longer to learn to roll, sit, crawl and walk. This means that they may spend longer periods of infancy and early childhood on the floor and ground, with greater exposure to chemicals in dust and soil. PBDEs in particular have been found to accumulate in household dust, and at least one study has found higher levels of PBDEs in toddlers than in adults in the same households.

Clearly it is critical the proposed rule be acted on immediately. LDA’s Healthy Children Project is a leader in this effort to reduce the effects of environmental contaminants on brain development, especially in children.

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