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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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Bridges4Kids LogoCHADD Applauds U.S. Senate Passage of IDEA
News from CHADD Volume 4, Number 13, May 19, 2004

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Following months of deliberation and debate, last week the U.S. Senate passed S.1248, the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), by a 95-3 vote. Long-time special education advocate Sen. Jeffords (I-VT) voted against the bill because there is no provision for mandatory funding. Traditional IDEA supporters Sen. Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Stabenow (D-MI) also voted against the final bill. IDEA is the primary law that governs special education in public schools.

 

Under the leadership of Chairman Gregg (R-NH) and ranking member Kennedy(D-MA) of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), the bill provides a bipartisan model that serves children with disabilities and their families while simultaneously reducing undue administrative hardship upon educators and support staff. While the Senate bill does not meet all of CHADD's objectives, it retains key provisions of the current law that protect the rights of children with disabilities and their families. Some disability organizations oppose the Senate bill; however, CHADD and a majority of the national disability organizations worked closely with the Senate staff throughout the deliberation process to shape provisions and the amendments in positive ways and to minimize adverse impact upon provisions that CHADD supported. [For additional background about CHADD's stand on IDEA and specific provisions, see the News from CHADD archives. Specifically: March 3, 2003; June 6, 2003; and July 17, 2003.] With the exception of two amendments involving mandatory funding (Harkin-Hagel) and non- mandatory funding (Gregg), all contentious issues were eliminated before and during floor debate, and the remaining four amendments were approved by voice vote.

 

The most significant provisions approved by the Senate either within the bill or by an amendment are as follows:

 

APPROPRIATE EDUCATION AND PAPERWORK REDUCTION

 

This provision is designed to relieve administrative burdens on educators while preserving the rights of those children with disabilities in states that are part of a pilot program. While the demonstration authorized by the Senate (15 states) is larger than the one in the House version (10 states), the Senate provisions specifying the rights that must be protected is very clear. States that agree to be part of the pilot project may not waive civil rights protections and must protect a child's right to receive a "free appropriate public education" or "FAPE." Most conflicts between schools and parents revolve around what is "appropriate." Changes instituted in the pilot program may not infringe upon procedural safeguards.

 

POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL SUPPORTS

 

This provision within the bill-crafted by Sens. Clinton (D-NY) and Sessions (R-AL)-provides grants to support staff development and other resources for Positive Behavioral Supports.

Research has shown that when schools use such methods school-wide discipline improves. This provision is one that CHADD and other organizations worked to have included in the final Senate wording.

Sen. Clinton also made an amendment to add the U.S. Department of Education to the National Child Study.

 

MEDICATION USE

 

The bill contains a requirement to study the extent to which parents are pressured to use medication to treat their children. The study should enable Congress to determine if the reported cases are representative of a major problem or are isolated cases that, while tragic, may not warrant federal action.

 

ATTORNEY FEES

 

Attempts to cap attorney fees were denied. By eliminating actions that are "frivolous" or "groundless" or brought with "improper purpose" (note: items in quotation marks are legal terms), both parent and school rights will be better served. This is the same standard as other civil rights laws, and the amount for the prevailing attorney in a proper case is unchanged.

 

MURRAY AMENDMENT ON HOMELESS, WARD OF THE STATE AND CHILDREN OF MILITARY FAMILIES AND OTHERS IN TRANSITION

 

This amendment by Sen. Murray (D-WA) will improve the delivery of services to schools, and reduce complications for schools that receive new students with supportive plans developed by other school districts, including children with parents in the military.

 

FAILED AMENDMENT: MANDATORY FULL FUNDING

 

The mandatory funding measure, the Harkin-Hagel Amendment, failed on Wednesday, May 12, by a vote of 56 to 41, with 60 votes required for passage. Fifty-six senators voted in favor of mandatory full funding, including 10 Republicans. Republicans supporting mandatory full funding were Chafee (R-RI), Coleman (R-MN), Collins (R-ME), Hagel (R-NE) (one of the authors), McCain (R-AZ), Murkowski (R-AK), Roberts (R-KS), Snowe (R-ME), Specter (R-PA), and Warner (R-VA).

 

NEXT STEPS: CONFERENCE COMMITTEE

 

Now that both the House (H.R. 1350) and the Senate (S. 1248) have passed different versions of an IDEA reauthorization bill, a House-Senate Conference Committee must be formed to resolve the differences. In essence, the two bills will be examined, debated and ultimately blended into a final bill upon which both the House and Senate agree. However, with the presidential election and several extended recesses just weeks and months away, there are few "legislative days" left for Congress to take aggressive steps.  Within the next several weeks, CHADD will issue an analysis comparing the House and Senate bills.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

 

Contact your senators and representatives with TWO important messages: 1. IDEA must be reauthorized this year, and 2. The Senate version of IDEA is a more balanced bill than the House bill in that it addresses the concerns of educators and policy officials at all levels while continuing to protect the rights and capabilities of children. Your local voice makes the biggest difference. Please use the CHADD Legislative Action Center (LAC) for tools and direct links to your members of Congress. The LAC can be accessed through the CHADD Web site by clicking on the picture of the U.S. Capitol and then clicking on Legislative Action Center. There, you will also find local contact information to let your voice be heard when your elected officials are home during the many breaks this summer.

 

The reauthorization was to have been completed by September 2002. Countless hours and effort have been spent, and it may not be completed this year. Help CHADD. Please call, write and tell your members of Congress how much IDEA benefits everyone. To view the entire bill and all amendments, visit http://thomas.loc.gov. Go to either H.R. 1350 or S. 1248 and then scroll until you find the approved bill(s). 

     

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