On June 30, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Montana’s tax credit scholarship program allows a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to an organization that provides private school scholarships. The state’s supreme court invalidated the program because of a provision of the state constitution prohibiting the use of government funds for religious schools. The United States Supreme Court reserved that decision on the grounds that the state constitutional provision in question violated the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. While the ruling does not require states to operate private school voucher programs, it does require that all states that do operate such programs make them available to religious as well as secular schools. The Arc is disappointed in this ruling because it is likely to lead to an increase in public funding for schools that are not subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. See The Arc’s statement.
On June 30, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (S.4112). This bill provides $430 billion in funding for childcare and education, including an additional $12 billion in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding. Additionally, it requires states to assure that students with disabilities are afforded full rights under their Individualized Education Plans, Individualized Family Services Plans, or Section 504 plans. Among many other provisions, the measure also provides for increased funding for the E-rate program for schools to purchase discounted computers, tablets, hotspots, and at-home internet service for students and educators. See summary here. The Arc supports this bill.
On June 29, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), introduced the Helping Children with Disabilities Act (S.4100). This bill would provide increased funding for IDEA in line with the amounts in the more comprehensive Senate bill, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, S.4112. Specifically, S.4100 would appropriate $11 billion for state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), $1.2 billion for early childhood education programs, and $55 million under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998; and it requires recipients of funds to report to Congress how this money is spent. The Arc supports this legislation.
Last week, the Department of Education published state plans for Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding under the CARES Act. ESSER funds are awarded to states based on Title I allocations and can be spent for a variety of purposes including special education, remote education, mental health support, and other purposes. GEER funds can be spent to assist K-12 and higher education institutions in dealing with the effects of the pandemic.
Last week, the Department of Education released three questions and answers (Q&A documents) related to the use of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two documents relate to permissible uses of funds under Part B and Part C. The third document relates to part B fiscal requirements that generally prohibit a state or school district from decreasing how much it spends on special education services.
Common Sense Media published a report on the digital divide showing that approximately one-third of public school students lack either an adequate internet connection or device for learning at home. Additionally, 10% of public school teachers lack an adequate internet connection. The percentage of students lacking a high-speed internet connection ranges from 20% in New Hampshire to 50% in Mississippi. The first-year cost of closing the divide is estimated to be between $6 and $11 billion for students and $1 billion for teachers. The report includes an interactive map showing the digital divide in each state.
On June 15, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing titled “Budget Cuts and Lost Learning: Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 on Public Education.” Witnesses were Michael Leachman, Ph.D., Vice President for State Fiscal Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Rebecca Pringle, Vice President, National Education Association; Mark Johnson, Superintendent of Public Instruction, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction; and Eric Gordon, Chief Executive Officer, Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Visit the Committee website for more information or to access video of the hearing.
On June 10, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled, “COVID-19: Going Back to School Safely.” Witnesses were Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner of Education, Tennessee Department of Education; Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, Commissioner of Education, Nebraska Department of Education; Susana Cordova, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools; and The Honorable John B. King, Jr., President And CEO, The Education Trust. Visit the Committee website for more information or to access video of the hearing.
On June 10, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will hold a hearing on titled “COVID-19: Going Back to School Safely.” Witnesses will be Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner of Education, Tennessee Department of Education; Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, Commissioner of Education, Nebraska Department of Education; Susana Cordova, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools; and The Honorable John B. King, Jr., President And CEO, The Education Trust. Visit the committee website for more information or to access live video on the day of the hearing.
On April 27, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted a report to Congress required by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with recommendations on waivers for various education laws. Secretary DeVos did not recommend waivers of core provisions the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. She did, however, recommend waiving technical provisions to allow extending Part B transition evaluation timelines and allowing children to continue receiving Part C services until Part B determinations are complete. The Arc is relieved that no significant waivers were recommended and urges advocates to help ensure that Congress does not include waivers in the next Coronavirus package. See The Arc’s statement.