NASET News Alert

Nov 17- Bipartisan

May 26, 2006

November 17,  2004

Bipartisan House-Senate Conference Approves Final Special Education Bill

November 17, 2004-WASHINGTON , D.C. – A bipartisan House-Senate conference committee today approved a final special education reform bill that will reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and set in motion important reforms that will help teachers, parents, and schools ensure every student with disabilities receives a quality education.  The bipartisan agreement is based on legislation authored by House Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Mike Castle (R-DE) that passed the House in 2003 with bipartisan support.  The measure includes reforms recommended in 2002 by President Bush’s special education commission, as well as key elements of the IDEA reauthorization bill passed by the Senate in 2004.

“This bipartisan agreement is an across-the-board win for teachers, parents, and students with special needs,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), who chaired the conference committee.  “In No Child Left Behind, we put a system in place to ensure students with disabilities, and all students, are getting access to the education they deserve.  In this bill, we’re making sure the rules help special education teachers and parents get the most out of that system, instead of making it harder for them.”

“For more than two years we’ve been working with parents, teachers, and advocates across the nation to improve special education for students in all public schools,” said Rep. Castle.  “This legislation demonstrates a commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities receive a quality education, and the tools they need to successfully accomplish their goals.”

In July of 2002, President Bush’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education released a final report outlining principles for special education reform.  The report emphasized paperwork reduction for teachers, early intervention, parental choice, and academic results for students.  It also emphasized the need to change the IDEA law to make it less focused on compliance with cumbersome and bureaucratic rules, and more focused on ensuring students with disabilities are actually learning. 

In line with the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act will:

  • Ensure school safety and reasonable discipline;
  • Give local schools more flexibility and greater control;
  • Move away from compliance with burdensome regulations and costly litigation, and reduce the paperwork burden on teachers; and
  • Expand choices and give parents more control over their children’s education.

EMPOWERING PARENTS

The H.R. 1350 conference agreement creates more opportunities for parental involvement and parental choice in special education.  Parents and local schools will be allowed to change a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) without holding a formal IEP meeting, making it easier for parents to make changes without contending with unnecessary bureaucratic requirements.  (An IEP is provided for each student participating in special education, and includes detailed plans for the child’s education.)  Parents will also be able to choose supplemental educational services, such as tutoring, for their children with disabilities when the students’ schools are in need of improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act because students with disabilities are not making adequate yearly progress.  States will now be able to support these services for parents using IDEA funds.

The final bill also includes a provision included in the House bill by Rep. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to make it easier for parents to choose services for their children before they enter school.  Parents will now be able to keep their children in the same program from birth until kindergarten, making the transition to school easier for children and their families.

Under a provision offered in by Rep. Max Burns (R-GA) and strongly supported by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), H.R. 1350 will protect parents by preventing schools from forcing children to be medicated as a condition of attending school or receiving an evaluation or services for special education.  The bill will also ensure parents who home-school their children have the right to refuse services, and that students in private schools are ensured equitable participation in services.

PROMOTING SCHOOL SAFETY & REASONABLE DISCIPLINE

Preserving a key focus of the 2003 House-passed bill, the conference report gives teachers and schools more freedom to exercise reasonable discipline, while still protecting children who act out because of their disabilities.  To keep schools safe for all students, and hold students accountable for their actions, the bill will restore common sense to school discipline.  Students will have the same punishment for the same infraction, unless the discipline problem is the direct result of a child’s disability.

MORE LOCAL CONTROL OVER LOCAL RESOURCES

In the area of special education funding, the conference report builds on historic funding increases and gives local communities more control over their own resources.  In the past ten years, the Republican Congress has increased funding for special education grants to states by 383 percent, bringing funding to $11.1 billion, the highest level in history.  As the federal government moves closer to paying their goal of 40 percent of the additional cost of educating students with disabilities, local schools will be able to choose to redirect a share of their own, local resources for other educational purposes.  The final bill puts the federal government on a six-year glide path to reaching the 40 percent funding goal through the traditional, discretionary appropriations process.

REDUCING PAPERWORK AND COSTLY LITIGATION

A major recommendation of the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education was to reduce the focus on compliance with burdensome and bureaucratic red tape, and instead to focus more on educational results for students.  To achieve that goal, the conference agreement reduces the paperwork burden on teachers and schools, increases the focus on academic results, and includes strong steps to reduce unnecessary and costly litigation.

Under current IDEA law, the threat of litigation is forcing schools to be more concerned about technical compliance than with truly educating students with disabilities.  This breeds an attitude of distrust between parents and schools, and makes it more difficult for them to work together to do what is best for students.  Worse still, parents are sometimes manipulated into complex legal proceedings by lawyers who have their own best interests in mind, rather than the best interest of students with disabilities.  The bill will work to restore trust between parents and schools by creating opportunities for early resolution of problems before they escalate, and by holding attorneys liable for frivolous lawsuits.

  

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