On October 11, President Trump has appointed Laurie VanderPloeg as Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). Ms. VanderPloeg currently serves as president of the Council for Exceptional Children. Additionally, she has experience as a district special education administrator in Michigan. OSEP is the office within the Department of Education charged with administering the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has released a report titled “Assessing ESSA: Missed Opportunities for Students with Disabilities”. The report rates states on whether their accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) include students with disabilities, whether they are developing support systems to help struggling schools meet the needs of students with disabilities, and whether the plan meaningfully includes and discusses the needs of students with disabilities. The report shows that most states had low long-term goals for students with disabilities. For example, New York’s long-term graduation rate goal for students with disabilities is 63% and New Mexico aims only for a 50% proficiency rate in mathematics and English language arts for students with disabilities. Read the report here.
The Learning Policy Institute has released a report titled “Making ESSA’s Equity Promise Real: State Strategies to Close the Opportunity Gap” on the use of suspension rates, school climate, chronic absenteeism, extended-year graduation rate, and access to a college-and career-ready curricula in their accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Students with disabilities face disparities on all five of these measures. Find out if your state is using these factors in its accountability system with these interactive maps.
The U.S. Department of Education found that only twenty-one states deserved the “meets requirements” designation for the 2016-2017 school year. Twenty-eight states were placed into the “needs assistance” category. Michigan and the District of Columbia were placed in the “needs intervention” 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.
On July 26, Representative Bobby Scott and sixteen co-sponsors introduced the Aim Higher Act (H.R. 6543) to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. Among many other things, the bill would require colleges to accept formal disability documentation from high school so the students no longer must re-prove their disability to receive accommodations in college. The bill would reauthorize the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities and teacher preparation programs that train teachers to educate diverse learners. The Aim Higher Act is the alternative to the PROSPER Act (H.R. 4508) that passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in February. See the statement from the CCD Education Task Force here.
Last week, the House and Senate passed, and the President signed, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353) which reauthorizes federal career and technical education (CTE) programs. The law includes several disability community priorities such as including individuals with disabilities among the stakeholders who must be consulted in the development of the state plan; creating a new set aside for the recruitment of individuals with disabilities to CTE programs that lead to high-wage in-demand careers; including provisions around public reporting on student subgroups and special population performance by program of study; and expanding access and requirements for teacher professional development in universal design for learning and other research-based teaching methods. See the statement from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Education Task Force here.
The Schott Foundation for Public Education has issued a report grading states on their commitment to public education. The report assesses privatization programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia with the goal of not only highlighting the benefits of a public school education, but comparing the accountability, transparency and civil rights protections offered students in the public school setting versus the private school setting. States are rated on the extent to which they have instituted policies and practices that lead toward fewer democratic opportunities and more privatization, as well as the guardrails they have (or have not) put into place to protect the rights of students, communities, and taxpayers. The report also recommends improving public schools by reducing class sizes, improving teacher training and recruitment, supporting pre-K education, and increasing parental involvement. See the report here.
On June 29, the Department of Education announced that it would delay the regulations that were set to take effect this month to address racial/ethnic disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The requirement for states and school districts to collect and report data on significant disproportionality, and take certain action if it is found, was added to the IDEA in 2004. However, since that time few states and school districts have reported any such significant disproportionality. In response to this problem, documented in a 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Education issued regulations in 2016 to require a standard methodology to calculate significant disproportionality. In February, the Department solicited public comment on a proposed delay of these regulations as part of President Trump’ Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” Nearly 400 comments were submitted in response with the vast majority opposing the delay, including comments from The Arc and from school districts already in the implementation process. The Department cited concerns about creating incentives for quotas and the need to study the issue further as justification for postponement. The Arc is very disappointed with the Department’s action and remains very concerned about the disproportionate numbers of minority students being over identified with certain types of disabilities, placed in segregated settings, and suspended and/or expelled.
Last week, the White House announced a proposal to make major changes to the structure of government agencies. The most prominent change proposed is the merger of the Departments of Education and Labor. Additionally, the proposal moves non-commodity nutrition assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare. If legislation is introduced to make these changes, The Arc will assess the impact on programs critical to people with disabilities.
On June 6, the Federal Commission on School Safety held its first in a series of public listening sessions. The Commission was created shortly after the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and is composed of the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Education, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security. Annie Acosta, Director of Fiscal and Family Support Policy at The Arc, provided comments before the commission. She urged the commission to look comprehensively at school safety, recognize the importance of school climate, explore root causes of student behavior, prioritize evidence-based approaches, address the proper role of school resource officers, and maintain the Department of Education and Justice’s joint 2014 Discipline Guidance package. See the archived listening session here.