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Article of Interest - IDEA

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Bridges4Kids LogoSenator Kennedy's Statement on the Urgent Need for Reauthorization of IDEA
November 19, 2004
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Thank you, 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 bill.

This has been a long and arduous march for our country as we fought to recognize the civil rights of children with disabilities.

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 classroom.

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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