[esd-dir] OSL&P--Article: Senate Approves Special Education Measure
Debra.Zerbe at state.or.us
Wed May 19 13:51:27 PDT 2004
An article in the New York Times on May 14 for your information.
Sent on behalf of:
Nancy Latini, PhD
Student Learning & Partnerships
Senate Approves Special Education Measure
May 14, 2004
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
WASHINGTON, May 13 - In a near-unanimous vote, the Senate
on Thursday approved major changes in special education intended to
reduce paperwork for teachers, bolster enforcement by state and federal
authorities and limit lawsuits by parents seeking help for their
The Senate rewrite of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
addresses many of the same issues as a House version approved a year
ago, like student discipline, paperwork and parents' lawsuits, but it
provides greater legal protection for disabled students. While groups
representing school administrators supported the House version, those
representing disabled students condemned it. The Senate bill has won
support from both camps.
"This truly is a bipartisan bill," said Patrisha A. Wright, director of
government affairs for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
"There are things that school districts love about it, and things they
hate. There are things that parents love about it, and things they
The bill authorizes increases in federal spending on
special education over the next six years of up to $2.2
billion a year, but senators rejected an amendment that
would have obligated them to finance the full amount. In
the past - most contentiously under the No Child Left
Behind Act - Congress has spent well below the maximum authorized for
educating the poorest children.
The rejected amendment would have meant that 30 years after
the special education law was passed, Congress would be
fully financing its cost to the states. Under the amendment that won
approval, Congress can increase aid but is not obligated to do so.
Advocates for disabled children said the amendment, approved 96 to 1,
would be of little consequence. "There's nothing that gives us any
expectation that what hasn't happened in 30 years is going to happen
now," said Paul Marchand, chief lobbyist for United Cerebral Palsy and
the ARC, formerly the Association for Retarded Citizens.
Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma, cast the lone
vote against the bill.
In other areas, the Senate bill emphasizes new ways to
gauge a school's performance, based more heavily on how
well children meet academic goals rather than on how well schools
provide individually tailored services. It does away with short-term
reports on a child's advances toward individual goals and substitutes
quarterly report cards on more general academic progress.
The bill also encourages federal and state officials to
monitor special education closely and to withhold financing
to schools if necessary. A recent government survey showed
that no state was fully meeting its legal obligation to
provide educational services for disabled students.
Less to the liking of advocates for the disabled, the
Senate version sets a two-year deadline for parents to file complaints
about their children's education, and a 90-day deadline for filing
lawsuits. The Senate version stopped short of permitting governors to
set limits on the fees paid to lawyers who successfully represent
parents in suits against school districts. The House version permits
governors to cap lawyers' fees.
Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire and
chairman of the Health Education Labor and Pensions
Committee, said that while the bill was not perfect, "it's
a very strong step in the right direction."
Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards
Association, also praised the bill, saying it would "substantially
strengthen services for students with disabilities, while at the same
time protect their rights."
Democrats said they were concerned that the bill could
change drastically in the conference committee, and would
seek guarantees before permitting the conference to take it
up. While Democrats are the minority, aides said they could
use procedural tactics like filibusters.
The differences between the bills are significant. The
House version, for example, permits schools to eject
children for violations of "codes of conduct" without demonstrating that
their disability did not cause the misbehavior. The Senate would require
schools to show that the misconduct was unrelated to the disability.
"We have to have some understanding about where we are," Senator Edward
M. Kennedy, the Education Committee's ranking Democrat, said after the
bill's passage. "We're firmly rooted, firmly committed, to the Senate
Democratic aides said there were specific areas where they would seek
"pre-conference guarantees," the thorniest of which involves procedural
issues like student discipline, lawyers' fees and due process for
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