On January 25, The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Access and Innovation”. Witnesses will include Dr. Joe May, Chancellor, Dallas County Community College District; Dr. Barbara Brittingham, President, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of Schools and Colleges; Mr. Michael Larsson, Founder and President, Match Beyond; Ms. Donna Linderman, University Dean for Student Success Initiatives; City University of New York; and Dr. Deborah Bushway, Independent Higher Education Consultant, Provost, Northwestern Health Sciences University. Visit the Committee web site for more information or to access live video on the day of the hearing. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently passed a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (H.R. 4508) which The Arc does not support. See the letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities on H.R. 4508.
The U.S. Department of Education is seeking comments on a plan to delay enforcement of what’s known as the “significant disproportionality” rule for two years. At issue is a rule finalized at the end of the Obama administration aimed at preventing overrepresentation of minorities in special education. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states must identify school districts with high rates of students from particular racial or ethnic groups that are placed in restrictive settings or are subject to discipline. States use different measures to assess what’s known as “significant disproportionality,” resulting in few districts ever being identified. The rule, which is slated to take effect July 1, 2018, addresses this problem by establishing a uniform, national standard. See the 2013 Government Accountability Office report recommending a standard approach to defining significant disproportionality across states.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act, on December 12. The final vote, 23-17, along party lines, advances the measure to the full House for a vote. The bill would overhaul the existing Higher Education Act by consolidating the student aid system, eliminating various regulations, and elevating post-secondary programs that offer professional certificates and job training. While The Arc appreciates the bill’s continuation of the Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TSPID), we oppose this legislation because it makes college less affordable and eliminates grants that support teacher preparation, increase accessibility for students with disabilities, support faculty who work with students with disabilities, and provide accessible materials. See the letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities on H.R. 4508. Meanwhile in the Senate, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, respectively, are working toward a bipartisan solution.
On December 8, the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services released a “questions and answers” document regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas Country School District Re-1. In this decision, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that students with individualized education plans (IEPs) were entitled only to an education that was “merely more than de minimus” and ruled that an IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” This document will help advocates, parents, students, educators, and other school staff understand how the ruling will impact education.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is scheduled to mark up H.R. 4508, named the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, on December 12. While The Arc appreciates the continuation of the Transition and Postsecondary Program for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TSPID) in the H.R. 4508, we oppose this legislation because it makes college less affordable and eliminates grants that support teacher preparation, increase accessibility for students with disabilities, support faculty who work with students with disabilities, and provide accessible materials.
Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Donald McEachin (D-VA) will host a briefing on the over-identification and discipline in special education on Thursday, December 7th from 3:30 – 5:00 pm. The Obama administration established a rule in 2016 that created a standardized approach to determine whether school districts have significant disparities in how they identify, segregate, or discipline minority students with disabilities. According to press reports, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is strongly considering eliminating this regulation. The briefing panel will discuss the research on significant disproportionality, what these practices look like in the classroom, and policy implications, including what it would mean to rescind the regulation.
On November 17, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report detailing the impact of private school choice on students with disabilities. After examining the 27 voucher programs and education savings account programs operating in 14 states and DC, GAO determined that Congress should consider taking action to force states to disclose to families that they give up their rights under federal special education law when a child with disabilities is moved from a public school to a private school. The report found that private school choice programs sometimes provide families with inaccurate information about federal special education law. Despite the Education Department’s urging that states share more information with families about their rights, GAO found that “more than 80 percent of students nationwide who are enrolled in private choice programs designed for students with disabilities were enrolled in a program that either provided no information about changes in their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or provided some inaccurate information about these changes.” The report comes amid the Trump administration’s support for expanding private school choice. To read more from the GAO report, click here.
On November 7, Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Danny K. Davis (D-IL) introduced the Public Funds for Public Schools Act of 2017 (H.R. 4269). This bill addresses a problem that currently exists with tuition tax credits (TTCs) in select states. In 18 states, the TTCs are available to individuals who contribute to scholarship granting organizations or school voucher nonprofits. In 7 of these states (AL, AZ, FL, GA, MT, NV, and SC,) this tax credit is dollar for dollar. This means that in addition to receiving a full refund from their state, upper-income donors qualify for a federal tax deduction on the same donation, which allows them to turn a profit on their contributions. Each year, wealthy donors use TTCs to divert an estimated $1 billion in taxpayer funding to private and often unaccountable schools. The Arc supports this legislation as it disallows profiteering from donations to support private schools, which are not obligated to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
On October 27, the Department of Education announced the “withdrawal of nearly 600 out-of-date pieces of sub-regulatory guidance on its books” to date. “Each item has been either superseded by current law or is no longer in effect. Removing these out-of-date materials will make it easier for schools, educators, parents and the public to understand what guidance is still in effect.” A very preliminary review of rescinded documents indicates that the documents are outdated, however, disability advocates will continue to review the rescinded documents.
This announcement follows the Oct. 19 announcement of the rescission of 72 guidance documents under the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) that were rescinded due to being “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective” with no explanation provided. The Department followed up a few days later with a document that included brief justifications. A preliminary review also indicates that these rescissions appear to be valid. The Department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force’s full report and a list of out-of-date sub-regulatory guidance by office is available here.
On October 20, the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) announced in a newsletter that guidance documents have been rescinded. “At this time, OSERS has a total of 72 guidance documents that have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective-63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).” This announcement follows President Trump’s Executive Order 13777, intended “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on the American people. The Executive Order issued in February listed six criteria for making determinations on guidances, including those that “eliminate jobs, or inhibit job creation” and “impose costs that exceed benefits.” The October 20 announcement only refers to documents which meet one of the six criteria, leaving open the door for further rescissions. The Arc and education coalition partners are reviewing the rescinded documents to determine the potential impact on students with disabilities and their families. A preliminary review indicates that the rescinded documents clarify existing regulations pertaining the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act, such as Questions and Answers on Serving Children with Disabilities Placed by Their Parents at Private Schools. The Arc is concerned about the lack of transparency in this process as no justifications were provided and no additional information is available on the Department’s website. See the list of rescinded documents here.