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IDEA Reauthorization Hearing
by Robert Berlow, Esq.

March 21, 2002. I attended yesterday's hearing in Washington, DC. In addition to Senator Kennedy, the Chair, Senators Jeffords, Reed (RI) and Wellstone were present for much of the hearing. Senators Harkin, Clinton and Mikulski were present for part of the hearing. Senator Collins was present at the beginning. Senator Sessions came in to make a few points and left. Senator Bond was in and out.

In addition to Lily Diaz and Dr. Pasternak, the panel included a mom from Iowa and three others. One is a special ed director from Montana is who also the chair of the sp/ed directors association.

I can report my observations.

Senator Kennedy opened by saying "IDEA was one of the greatest civil rights laws ever enacted."

Full Funding of IDEA

Full funding is clearly supported strongly by some, including Senators Kennedy, Jeffords, Harkin, Reed, and Clinton. Senator Clinton said we cannot wait another minute much less another year for full funding.

Senator Clinton asked Dr. Pasternak for the Administration's position. His answer was "I know its a concern and we'll be looking at it". Senator Collins suggested that there should be no opposition to full funding after Congress makes needed changes to the law, although the extent of the changes she is looking for were not apparent.

Senator Jeffords said full funding was imperative (for Part B and C) and would provide the resources needed to assure that no child was left behind.

Burnout

Senator Wellstone, hearing Pasternak talk about burnout, said full funding is a "huge issue" and is related to burnout.

Mr. Runkel from Montana, also said that full funding is required. He suggested better links with Medicaid and Medicare and said that caps on administrative expenses hurt states, especially small states.

Senator Kennedy asked Lily Diaz about compliance tools and whether the tools or the failure to use them was the problem.

Lily said, it's the latter. She added that NCD pointed out in its report that there is a conflict of interest because on the one hand, the U. S. Department of Education is to work with states and on the other must discipline them when they violate the law. The report goes into this in great detail and recommends that DOJ take on enforcement.

(NOTE: Last year, Lily Diaz testified before the House of Representatives)

Lily also said that national compliance standards must be developed. The NCD report discusses the fact that the monitoring teams decide what to monitor.

The "Right Children"

After Dr. Pasternak repeatedly said that we have to make sure that the "right children are being identified and receiving special education," Senator Jeffords said you've said 3 or 4 times that we need to make sure the "right children..." and asked what Pasternak meant by the right children.

Pasternak said he was referring to the children who really need special education, not those who cannot read because they've not been taught.

Senator Jeffords asked the follow-up that many of us were waiting for: "What happens to the "non-right" kids?"

Pasternak said they were not looking to "kick out" any kids but only to make sure that in the future the right kids received special ed. Senator Jeffords replied that it looks like more of an attempt to reduce costs than to help the children.

Paperwork

Senators Jeffords, Collins, Sessions and Wellstone expressed concerns about paperwork. Wellstone indicated in a question to Lily Diaz, however, that there needs to be a way to reduce paper work that does not infringe in any way on the rights of children and parents as set out in current law.

Lily said that she must be living a different place but that in Miami she doesn't see that much paperwork. She suggested that if technology is properly used, paperwork should not be overwhelming.

Senator Sessions asked Pasternak whether paperwork, lawsuits, and behavior were problems. Pasternak said 'yes'. Senator Sessions was not present for Lily's testimony or the rest of the hearing.

Senator Mikulsi wanted to know whether care-giver supports could be built into the law. Pasternak answered by saying there was a lot of teacher burnout or compassion fatigue. Mikulski restated her question and Pasternak said he'd like to talk to her about the issue.

Senator Jeffords said in his opening that the full range of supports for families of children with disabilities and the children must be available if they are to succeed.

Senator Wellstone mentioned that he opposes cuts in the president's budget for mental health for children.

Need for Qualified Teachers

Senator Kennedy asked Pasternak what they were thinking with regard to getting more qualified teachers in special education. He said they were working with colleges and universities.

Senator Clinton wanted to know whether the administration would have a bill and when. Pasternak said after they get the recommendations from the Special Education Commission (on which he sits ex officio), possibly mid summer.

Discipline was identified as an issue to address but there was not a lot of discussion about this.

Pasternak echoed Chapters 3 and 14 in the Fordham report ("Rethinking Special Education" - available through Fordham Foundationwebsite) on how current monitoring and enforcement is too focused on what he calls the compliance model rather than on outcomes for kids.

This issue was not developed in the questioning in great detail.

Senator Kennedy asked about accountability and Pasternak said they were working on getting test publishers to come agree on universal designs and accomodations. This was also briefly discussed with Lily Diaz.

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