The U.S. Department of Education found that only 22 states deserved the “meets requirements” designation for the 2015-2016 school year. All other states were placed into the “needs assistance” category. The findings come from an annual mandatory assessment of state compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The ratings are based on how well states meet their obligations to serve students with disabilities ages 3 to 21.
The House Appropriations Committee did not fund two Trump Administration education priorities. In the Administration’s FY 2018 Budget, the President requested $1 billion for “portability” of funds to public school of choice and $250 million for research and private school scholarships for low-income families. However, the Appropriations Committee report noted that these programs have not been authorized. This means that Congress would need to enact legislation to allow public education dollars to be used for both public school portability and private school choice efforts.
Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA), David McKinley (R-WV), Timothy Walz (D-MN), David Reichert (R-WA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and John Katko (R-NY) introduced the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act (H.R. 2902). This bipartisan bill would increase spending over the next decade to bring the federal share of funding for special education up to 40 percent, the amount committed to when the law was first enacted in 1975. Currently the federal government currently covers 15.7 percent of these costs. The Arc supports this legislation.
The Department of Education released its final rule eliminating the r-word from its regulations and replacing it with “intellectual disability” or “intellectual disabilities.” This rule does not make any change to the meaning of the regulations, but rather brings them in line with Rosa’s Law, the 2010 law which eliminated the term from all statutes under the jurisdiction of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
On July 12, Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) and eight co-sponsors introduced H.R. 3199, the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act to improve college access and completion for students with disabilities. The Arc supports this comprehensive legislation that would provide students and institutions with improved training, greater resources, and expanded services, and includes improvements to the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities.
On March 22, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, sent a memo to Senate colleagues on the repercussions of school privatization efforts. The 20-page memo includes select stories on school privatization policies and provides an overview of the main types of such policies (vouchers, direct tax credits or deductions, tax credit vouchers, and education savings accounts) and how these policies fall short in three areas: 1) accountability and transparency, 2) challenges in rural areas, and 3) protecting students’ rights. On the same day, Senator Murray keynoted an event at the Center for American Progress entitled, “Federal Voucher Programs: Implications for Public Schools and Vulnerable Students.” Watch the archived webcast of the event here.
In a major win for the disability community, the U.S. Supreme Court ruledthat school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, the high court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” standard set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver. That language had been used in a precedent-setting opinion in another special education case by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, who sits on the 10th Circuit appellate court.
“Of course this describes a general standard, not a formula,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion. “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” he wrote. “The IDEA demands more,” he added. “It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
Endrew’s parents sought reimbursement from the district for the cost of a private school, arguing that the public school had failed to meet the IDEA’s mandate for a free and appropriate public education. The Supreme Court did not directly address the question of reimbursement, but sent the case back to the lower courts for consideration. For more information, read The Arc’s statement on the Supreme Court decision here.
President Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, responded to questions from the members of the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee. The nearly four hour hearing on January 17 included a series of questions related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In response to questions posed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) regarding whether all schools that receive federal funding -whether public, public charter or private – should be required to meet the requirements of IDEA, Ms. DeVos replied, “I think they already are” and “I think that is a matter that is best left to the states,” and “I think that is certainly worth discussion.” In response to a follow-up question on the same topic by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), DesVos stated “Federal Law must be followed where federal dollars are in play.” Watch the archived hearing here(IDEA discussion begins at the 3 hour and 31 minute mark).
On March 9, the Senate voted to rescind an Obama administration regulation on accountability, state plan, and data reporting that guides states on evaluating school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The measure (H.J. Res. 57), passed by a vote of 50-49, used the Congressional Review Act which forbids the Department of Education from issuing substantially similar rules in the future. In a February 10 letter, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised to issue further guidance today to states on implementing ESSA. The House approved H.J. Res. 57 last month and the measure now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature. The Arc opposed rescinding the accountability, state plan, and data reporting regulation. See the statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Education Task Force (of which The Arc is a member) in opposition to rescission of the regulation here.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case of Ehlena Fry, a student with cerebral palsy, who sought to use a service dog in school for tasks such as “retrieving dropped items, helping her balance when she uses her walker, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, and helping her take off her coat, [and] helping her transfer to and from the toilet.” The school refused to allow the service dog, arguing that a human aide was sufficient. Her parents sued the school district for violating her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A federal district court had dismissed the case on the basis that the parents must exhaust the administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before seeking relief under the ADA and Section 504 and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, ruled that a student does not need to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative process if the claim is not is not related to the adequacy of his/her education. Read The Arc’s statement on the ruling here.