Kennedy's Statement on the Urgent Need for Reauthorization of
November 19, 2004
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Chairman Boehner and Senator Gregg for your leadership in
producing an agreement with such strong support.
And thank you to so many of the conferees who contributed so
much to our deliberations. And thanks especially to the staff,
who worked endless hours over the past few weeks to produce this
This has been a long and arduous march for our country as we
fought to recognize the civil rights of children with
Not long ago, disabled children were shuttered away. They had no
place in our society.
Then, they were sent to separate schools.
Gradually, they were allowed to attend regular public schools,
but had to remain in separate wings in those schools.
At long last, America is coming to know what parents of disabled
children have known all along * that their children have hopes
and dreams, just like every other child * that they have parents
who love them and want the best for their children, just like
any other parent.
America is coming to learn that children with disabilities want
to be asked what they want to be when they grow up.
America is coming to understand that disabled does not mean
unable * that we shortchange our communities when we deny them
the gifts and contributions of those with disabilities.
So today, all children in America * including those with
disabilities * have the right to a free and appropriate
education. No one can take that away. And now, six and a half
million children with disabilities attend public schools, and
two-thirds of them spend most of the day in a regular education
The bill before us is a milestone. With this legislation, the
debate is no longer whether children with disabilities should
learn alongside all other children, but how best to do it.
That's why this bill strengthens services to disabled children,
works with their parents, improves teaching, and provides
practical help to their schools.
This bill also involves changes in the IDEA law, changes which I
know cause uncertainty and anxiety for many parents here today,
especially when it comes to the proposed new discipline
procedures. Most parents prefer the sure protections of the 1997
law. With the help of Senator Sessions, I believe we have
reached a workable compromise. Let us continue this march
together to meet the needs of your children. And let us work
together to ensure that this bill is implemented fairly and with
the interest of your children first in mind. And under no
circumstances should any disabled child ever be punished for
behavior that is caused by their disability.
The primary contribution of this legislation is that it
strengthens the broader community of those involved in the
education of our children, and gives them a greater stake in the
success of our children.
For our children, this bill provides at least 30,000 additional
fully-certified special education teachers in our schools.
It will expand access to technologies that will help disabled
children learn and become independent.
And for the first time, we will ensure that students with
disabilities are provided with job training and other services
that enable them to support themselves after they graduate. Five
years after they complete their special education programs, more
than half of those with disabilities still are not working or
are not involved in continuing education. We spend more than $12
billion for their education, only to abandon them once they
finish school. Surely, we owe it to them, to their parents, and
to our communities to provide the training and support they need
to lead independent lives. While this provision is not in this
bill, Chairman Boehner assures me that it will be included in
job training legislation next year.
For parents, this bill assures that they have a strong voice in
their children's education. It makes sure that students are
evaluated quickly for IDEA services when a parent calls for
them, and it works with parents to improve the coordination of
educational services for students who change schools during a
school year. It requires schools to give to parents quarterly
reports on their children's progress. It provides new resources
to parent training centers to help resolve disputes between
parents and schools, and it gives parents more flexible options
to participate in their child's education. And above all, it
holds schools accountable for results, and imposes sanctions on
states that ignore the law, so that parents don't always have to
fight failing schools alone.
For teachers, the bill provides new training opportunities. And
it recognizes that special education teachers face two and a
half times the paperwork burden as other teachers, by allowing
15 states to test new ways of giving teachers more time with
students and less with needless paperwork.
For communities * for students and parents and teachers and
schools * this bill encourages everyone to work together to
solve problems and meet challenges. It says that if children
must be removed from school for disciplinary reasons, the
community must continue to see to the educational and other
needs of those children.
And far too often, issues between parents and schools quickly
wind up in court. This bill tries to resolve them first through
a complaint process before resorting to litigation.
As a society, we are judged by how we treat our children. And we
are measured especially by how we treat those children with
special needs. That is why I believe so strongly in the right of
every child to a free and appropriate education, and I believe
this bill advances that cause.
I urge my colleagues to support it.
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