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.
On February 2, the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a hearing examining charter schools and voucher programs throughout the country. Witnesses included Michael L. William, former Texas Commissioner of Education; Almo J. Carter, a parent of a child with a disability from Washington, D.C.; Kevin Kubacki, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, IN; and Nina Cherry, a parent from Dover, FL. Visit the Committee web site for more information, including testimony and archived video.
On February 10, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a letter to chief state school officers intended to provide clarity on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This letter follows the announced delayby the Department of Education of the effective date of regulations concerning accountability and State plans until March 21, 2017, as the Administration reviews recently issued regulations. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress 60 legislative days to disapprove of certain regulations recently issued by federal agencies. On Feb 7, the House passed H.J. Res. 57to overturn the regulation on accountability and state plans that went into effect on Jan 30, 2017. The Senate vote on the measure has not yet been announced.
The February 10 letter emphasizes that states should continue to move forward and that the Department will work to ensure that states’ education leaders have the state and local flexibility that Congress intended. States should continue to follow the timeline for developing and submitting their plans for review and approval, building on the work they have already completed. The Department will still accept consolidated State plans on April 3 or September 18, 2017. Further guidance will be issued on the state plan requirements by March 13, 2017. The Arc supports strong accountability regulations in order to provide transparency in the performance of all students, including those with disabilities.
On February 7, the Senate confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the Higher Education Act.
The full Senate resumes consideration of Betsy Devos to lead the Department of Education today, with the vote as soon as this afternoon. This follows last week’s party line vote of 12-11 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to advance the nomination. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have publicly stated their intent to vote no on the final confirmation vote. Because this will result in a 50-50 tie vote if all other Senators vote along party lines, Vice President Mike Pence is expected to preside so that he can break the tie. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The event will be livestreamed here.
On January 18, The U.S. Department of Education released new resources for school officials, school staff, parents, and other stakeholder. These include atoolkit on social-emotional learning and School Climate Improvement Resource Package. Additionally, the department released new fact sheets on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: one on religious discrimination in general and another on discrimination against Jewish students.