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Senate IDEA Bill Could Come to Floor Soon - Amendments Could Make Bill Worse!

Alert from National Association of Protection & Advocacy Systems

Background

A bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act may come to the Senate floor in October. The leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Republican and Democratic leaders want to get this bill the floor. When the Senate passes its version of IDEA (S. 1248), it will be conferenced with the House bill (H.R.1350) - this is when the differences between the two bills will be resolved and a final bill put together.

Senators will be at home from October 4-12. Parents and advocates need to visit their Senators during this break. This will give advocates time to make their concerns known.

While the Senate IDEA bill is an improvement over the House bill, there are weaknesses in the Senate bill that P&A and other advocates need to work to fix.

This bill also includes an important provision that would give Protection & Advocacy (P&As) more resources to help families resolve IDEA problems.

Dangerous Amendments

NAPAS expects dangerous amendments to be offered on the Senate floor - these amendments would weaken the IDEA.

Amendment to Gut NCLB for Children with Disabilities

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to add an amendment that will allow schools to eliminate scores of children with disabilities from their reports on Adequate Yearly Progress. Children with disabilities would take the standardized tests but their scores would not be used to determine if a school or school district shows improvement. This amendment is an attempt by school districts to reduce the pressure on them by NCLB requirements.

When Congress enacted No Child Left Behind, they sent a message that every child counts - children who speak other languages, children of different races, children from different backgrounds, poor children, AND children with disabilities. Because all children count, schools must be accountable for ensuring that all children are educated and that all children make academic progress.

Any effort to eliminate a subgroup of students from the accountability umbrella established by No Child Left Behind will weaken accountability to educate all children. This will also send a message that Congress believes children with disabilities have less value, have less of a right to an education, than other children. This would support school districts that believe it is appropriate to under-educate children with disabilities.

NOTE: On September 9, 2003, H. R. 3049, a bill to gut the No Child Left Behind Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives. H. R. 3049 would change NCLB requirements about assessment and accountability.

Under NCLB, schools must assess student proficiency in reading and math and must report their progress in educating groups of students who are often left behind. This amendment would create exclusions for "particular groups of students" - children with disabilities and English language learners.

Read "Bill to Gut NCLB"

http://www.wrightslaw.com/news/2003/nclb.hr3049.htm

Limit Attorney Fees ONLY for Parent's Attorneys

One amendment would limit the attorney fees available to parent's attorneys in special education cases. School and school boards are pushing this amendment. They appear to have convinced many Senators that attorney fees should be capped so more money can be spent on "educating children". The fact that this proposal would cap only parent attorney fees, not fees paid to school district attorneys (from taxpayer funds), has not been made clear to many Senators.

A recent Government Accounting Office report (September 2003) states that the "number of formal disputes are generally low. States are using mediation and other strategies to resolve conflicts.

The GAO reports that there are approximately five due process hearings per 10,000 students, an estimated seven mediations per 10,000 students, and approximately ten state complaints per 10,000 students. Approximately 6.5 million children with disabilities between the ages of three and 21 receive services under IDEA.

Protection and Advocacy Provisions

The Senate bill includes language to ensure that states spend funds on monitoring, enforcement, and due process protections.

Section 611 (e)(2)(B) Required Activities. Funds reserved under subparagraph (A) shall be used to carry out the following activities:

(i) For monitoring, enforcement, and complaint investigation
(ii) To establish and implement the mediation process required by Section 615(e)(1), including providing for the costs of mediators and support personnel;
(iii) To support the State protection and advocacy system to advise and assist parents in the areas of
(I) dispute resolution and due process;
(II) voluntary mediation; and
(III) the opportunity to resolve complaints.

This provision could provide P&As with more resources that could be targeted specifically to IDEA issues.

States oppose this provision. The National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of State Boards of Education, Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education are circulating a letter and lobbying to have the P&A provisions removed from the bill. (These are the groups that want to cap attorney fees for parent's attorneys only).

Action Needed:

Please contact your Senators when they are on recess between October 4-12.

1. Urge your Senators to vote AGAINST attorney fees caps and the Alexander amendment - both of which would further weaken the IDEA protections currently available to children with disabilities and their families.

2. Urge your Senators to SUPPORT the P&A provisions and urge Senators Gregg and Kennedy to fight for these provisions in the House-Senate Conference Committee.

a. Call, write, or email your Senators at their Washington, DC and state offices with these messages.

b. Schedule visits with your Senators and/or their key staff and give them these messages.

c. Use personal stories.

Tell the Senate staff how IDEA protections helped your child and your family and how the law as currently in place is working, it should not be changed, but that it should be enforced.

If you had a dispute with the school in identification, evaluation, placement in least restrictive environment, appropriate services, mediation, or due process, tell your Senators/ staff why you needed help from an advocate and/or attorney, how there would be no chance of a level playing field between parents and schools if you did not get help.

If you received help from your state P&A, tell your Senators/staff how this helped you and how P&A could help more families if they had additional funding specific to IDEA.

Contact Information

Information on each of your Senators is available at:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

If you have questions about P&A, please contact Kathy McGinley at NAPAS

Kathy@napas.org

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