Office for Civil Rights Releases Annual Report to Congress

On July 29, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released its Annual Report to Congress for FY 2019. The report found that almost half of complaints filed with OCR in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 related to disability discrimination, with the most common complaint involving students not receiving a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Among other things, the report also highlights the Department’s restraint and seclusion initiative, including compliance reviews, data quality reviews, and technical assistance.

Report Shows Most States Are Not Meeting IDEA Obligations

The U.S. Department of Education found that only 21 states deserved the “meets requirements” designation with regard to Part B for the 2018-2019 school year. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia were placed into the “needs assistance” category. Two states 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.

Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act Introduced in the Senate

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.

Coronavirus IDEA Funding Bill Introduced in the Senate

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.

Education: Education Department Release Q&A Documents of Use of IDEA Funds

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.

Education: Education Secretary Declines to Recommend Waivers of Core IDEA Provisions

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.

Education: GAO Releases Report on Differences in IDEA Eligibility Between States

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report documenting the differences between states in rates of eligibility for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Eligibility for services for children ages 6 through 21 varied from 6.4% to 15.1%. The report attributed this variation to the flexibility provided to states by law. IDEA requires states to create their own policies and procedures for identifying children eligible for services. Additionally, the law allows states to adopt criteria for disability classification that are broader than the federal minimum. The report also notes that some school districts have difficulty identifying English language learners with disabilities due to a lack of staff who are fluent in the student’s native language.

Education: Bill Introduced to Fully Fund Title I and IDEA

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Representative Susie Lee (D-NV), along with 11 original Senate co-sponsors and 16 original House co-sponsors, introduced the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers (PACT) Act (S.1172/H.R.2315). This bill gradually increases funding for Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and special education (Part B, the State Grant Program) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) until both are funded at authorization levels. Title I of the ESEA provides funding to school districts with high percentages of low income children. The Arc supports the Keep Our PACT Act.

Education: House Committee Holds Hearing on Education Department

On April 10, the House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing titled “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education.” The sole witness was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos faced numerous questions related to proposed program cuts; the administration’s Freedom scholarship tax credit proposal, which could be used for private schools that do not have to adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; loan servicing for post-secondary education; the decision to delay the significant disproportionality rule on disability identification, placement, and discipline by race/ethnicity; among other controversial issues. Visit the Committee website to review opening statements and testimony and view archived video of the hearing.

Education: Federal Judge Vacates ED Decision to Delay IDEA Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality Rule

On March 7, a Federal District Court judge overturned the Education Department’s (ED) decision to delay implementation of the 2016 significant disproportionality rule because it was “arbitrary and capricious” and the department “failed to provide a reasoned explanation” for its decision. 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 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (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 on the basis of race in identification, placement, and discipline. In 2018, the ED announced it would delay implementation of the rule. The Arc is pleased with the court ruling, which will ensure states and school districts move forward with implementation.