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.
On June 7, the Senate approved Kenneth Marcus to become the head of the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on a party-line vote of 50-46. Marcus served as the acting head of the OCR from 2003-04 and as the staff director of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2004-08 and is the founder and president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Marcus is expected to have an important role in the Department of Education consideration of repealing or significantly revising the Obama administration’s 2014 Discipline Guidance package.
On May 22, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified for the first time before the House Education and Workforce Committee. The hearing, entitled “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education” covered a range of issues, including for profit colleges, student loan programs, state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act, apprenticeships, funding for the Office for Civil Rights, school discipline, and the reporting of suspected undocumented students to authorities. View the archived webcast here.
A study soon to be published in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities shows that students with intellectual disability are still rarely educated with students without disabilities. The study examined placement trends for students with intellectual disability between ages 6 and 21 between 1976 and 2014. Over this time period, between 55 and 73 percent of students with intellectual disability were in segregated settings for all or most of the day. In 2014, only 17 percent of students with intellectual disability spent 80 percent or more of the school day in the general education classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires students with disabilities be educated alongside students without disabilities to the “maximum extent appropriate.” Placement in a less inclusive setting should occur only when “the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”
On May 23 at 3:00 p.m. EDT, the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) will hold a conference call for advocates regarding the proposed rescission of the Education and Justice Departments’ nondiscriminatory school discipline guidance. This guidance outlines the obligation of schools to ensure that students are not disproportionately punished based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability. Speakers will be Liz King, Director of Education Policy, Leadership Conference Education Fund; Elizabeth Olsson, Senior Policy Associate, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.; Diane Smith Howard, Senior Staff Attorney, National Disability Rights Network; Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center; and Paul-Winston Cange, Field Associate, LCEF. Register here.