House and Senate Advance Important Fiscal Year 2016 Spending Bills

Last week, the House and Senate advanced the most important spending bills for disability programs – Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED).  Both would maintain overall sequestration funding levels and include a number of substantial cuts to programs, earning the promise of a veto by President Obama.

L-HHS-ED – Senate – The Senate bill passed the Appropriations Committee along party lines on June 25.  The bill’s discretionary funding level is $3.6 billion below the Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 enacted level and includes numerous policy riders that would limit the activities of federal agencies.  Several federal agencies would receive significant cuts and a small number would receive increases. Notable examples include:

  • LABOR:  Includes a 4% cut for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs.
  • HHS:  Includes a 28% cut for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) program management that would restrict the agency’s ability to operate the Affordable Care Act programs, Medicare, and Medicaid.
  • EDUCATION: Includes a $1.1 billion cut for the Department.  However, the IDEA state grant program would receive a nearly 1% increase.

L-HHS – House – The House bill passed the full Appropriations Committee along party lines on June 24 and would provide discretionary funding at $3.7 billion below the FY 2015 level.  The bill also includes numerous policy riders. The House bill included spending cuts and select increases similar to those in the Senate bill:

  • LABOR: Includes a 2% cut for the Employment and Training Administration that helps to implement Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs.
  • HHS: Includes a $344 million cut for CMS.
  • EDUCATION: Includes a cut of $2.8 billion to the Department of Education.  However, this includes an increase of $12 billion (4.3%) for IDEA grants to states.

See the funding levels for specific disability related programs.

House Subcommittee Passes Spending Bill for the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED) approved its Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill on an 8-4 party line vote.  Funding for these agencies is reduced by 2.5% overall with cuts mostly targeted on the Affordable Care Act, family planning, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  Disability-related programs were largely level funded, and one received a sizable increase – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants to states.  The IDEA state grant would receive an increase of 4.3% over the 2015 funding level, bringing the federal share of the additional cost of providing special education from 16% to 17%. A detailed funding chart will be provided when more detailed line item funding is made available by the committee.  The full House Appropriations Committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow and the Senate L-HHS-ED Subcommittee will take up their bill later this week.

IDEA Full Funding Act introduced in Senate

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 2789, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Full Funding Act, on September 10. This bill would increase spending over the next decade to bring the federal share of funding for special education up to 40%, the amount promised when the law was first enacted in 1975. To date, the federal government has never covered more than 16% of these costs per year. The increased funding would be paid for through increased taxes on individuals earning over $1 million per year. The House version of the bill, HR 4136, was introduced in June by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Learn more at

The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act Introduced in the Senate

On September 10, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced S.2790, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Fairness Restoration Act. This legislation would ensure parents who successfully challenge a school district under IDEA can recoup costs for psychologists, behavior specialists, physicians and other experts they engage in order to bring their case. Currently, families can challenge schools if they do not believe that their child is being provided a free and appropriate education (FAPE) under the law. While attorney’s fees can be recovered by whichever party prevails, a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision determined that costs for expert witnesses cannot. The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act would remedy this problem by overriding the Supreme Court’s decision and restoring IDEA’s original intent, allowing prevailing parents to recover expert fees just like prevailing plaintiffs in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII, and other civil rights laws.

Legislation Introduced to Ensure Charter Schools Enroll and Retain Students With Disabilities

Representatives John Kline (R-MN) and George Miller (D-CA) introduced H.R. 10, the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would help ensure that Charter Schools enroll and retain students with disabilities.  The bill would require states to ensure that charter schools can meet the needs of students with disabilities and meet their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504.  The Arc joined other organizations in supporting H.R. 10.

Legislation Introduced to Raise Federal Funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

H.R. 4136, introduced by Representatives Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Tim Walz (D-MN), and David McKinley (R-WV), calls for full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The IDEA Full Funding Act would increase spending over the next decade to bring the federal share of funding for special education up to 40%, the amount promised when the law was first enacted in 1975. How the increased spending would be paid for is not specified in the bill.

The Departments of Justice and Education Jointly Release School Discipline Guidance Package

The Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Education (ED) jointly released a school discipline guidance package for schools to ensure that discipline policies do not discriminate against racial or ethnic groups or students with disabilities and help school leaders find alternatives to excluding students from classrooms or schools.  The guidance materials cite data from the Civil Rights Data Collection that shows students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions.

Some of the major findings included data showing that students served by IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act] represent 12% of students in the country, they make up 19% of students suspended in school, 20% of students receiving out-of-school suspension once, 25% of students receiving multiple out-of-school suspensions, 19% of students expelled, 23% of students referred to law enforcement, and 23% of students receiving a school-related arrest. Additionally, students with disabilities (under the IDEA and Section 504 statutes) represent 14% of students, but nearly 76% of the students who are physically restrained by adults in their schools.

The guidance emphasizes positive environments, prevention efforts, clear, appropriate, and consistent expectations and consequences, and continuous efforts to ensure equity.  It highlights schools’ obligations under civil rights laws and provides numerous resources for their use.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Spending Bill for the Departments of Health & Human Services, Labor, Education, and Related Agencies

On July 11, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its FY 2014 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (L-HHS-ED).  View the Committee Report.   A few disability-related programs received notable increases:

Special Education:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grants to states – an increase of $125 million (to $11.7 billion)
  • Early Intervention – an increase of $21 million (to $463 million)
  • Research – an increase of $20 million (to nearly $70 million)

Social Security Administration:

  • Program integrity activities, including continuing disability reviews (CDRs) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) redeterminations – a $441 million increase (to $1.2 billion)
  • Administrative expenses – an increase of $534 million (to $12 billion)

Despite these and other funding increases, it is important to note that the Senate numbers do not account for the automatic across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) in FY 2014 since the Senate Budget Resolution assumed elimination of sequestration. It is likely that one or more continuing resolutions (CR) are likely at this point.

Department of Education Releases Information on How States Have Performed In Implementing IDEA

The Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released its annual determination of how states have performed in implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). States are required to submit data and measurable improvement goals to OSERS about graduation rates, meeting evaluation timelines, participation and performance on statewide assessments, and many other areas. States must report on their progress in meeting those goals. OSERS then evaluates the performance of each state and issues determination letters. States may receive one of four determinations: meets, needs assistance, needs intervention, or needs substantial intervention. IDEA requires OSERS to direct states to obtain technical assistance or develop corrective action plans. In worst cases, IDEA authorizes OSERS to withhold a state’s IDEA funding. To learn how your state fared, go to the Department of Education website.

Department of Education Makes Change to Rule Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Department of Education made a technical change to the state maintenance of effort (MOE) rule under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The change was included in the continuing resolution (CR), the spending bill for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year that Congress passed last month.

Under an MOE, states cannot cut their own education spending below whatever amount they spent the previous year and still receive their full allotment of federal dollars under IDEA, unless they get special permission from the Department. A provision in the recent spending legislation clarified that while states that are out of compliance with the law will have their IDEA funding reduced, the cut will not be permanent. Instead, the reduction would just be for the year (or years) that the state was out of compliance and did not obtain a waiver. Once the problem had been fixed, the state could go back to its regular spending levels. Any surplus funds resulting from reductions in funding due to MOE violations would be divided among states that follow the rule as a one-time bonus.