October 4th, 2021

September 2021 Policy News Round-Up

Budget reconciliations negotiations continue in Congress on major education investments, the Office of Civil Rights investigates potential discrimination of mask mandate bans on students with disabilities, OSERS releases new guidance on the development and implementation of IEPs, the Department of Education sought input on its Learning Agenda, and the Teacher and School LEADERS Act was reintroduced in Congress. See how NCLD worked on behalf of students with disabilities this month.

Budget Reconciliation Process is Ongoing in Congress

After receiving instructions for spending from the $3.5 trillion Budget Resolution passed last month, the House Education & Labor (E&L) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees have been hard at work on constructing the “Build Back Better Act” which would allocate funding to key educational programs. On September 25th, the House Budget Committee packaged together the reconciliation proposals from the 13 House Committees but has not yet scheduled the bill to be considered on the House floor. This bill would then head to the Senate where it will need  support from all 50 Democratic Senators to be passed, so negotiations and modifications will be ongoing. 

Investments in the bill advanced by the House Budget Committee on September 25th include: 

  • $1.1 billion for programs that support educator workforce (including $297 million in IDEA Part D Personnel Preparation) over 4 years
  • $9 billion for college retention and completion grants
  • $45.5 billion for grants for tuition-free community college
  • $82 billion for school infrastructure grants
  • Funds for childcare and universal preschool programs

Read E&L’s Section by Section here

NCLD and 67 other organizations have advocated for increased funding for the educator workforce and shared a letter urging Members of Congress to address educator shortages and increase equitable access to high-quality teachers for underserved students.

OCR Opens Disability-Focused Investigations into State Bans on Masking Mandates

8 states (AZ, AR, IA, OK, FL, SC, TX, UT) have enacted laws or issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring students to wear masks. The U.S. Department of Education (ED)’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is concerned that restrictions on setting mask requirements may be discriminatory to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19 – a violation of federal law. As a result, OCR has opened investigations into states’ compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act and sent letters to chief state school officers in IA, OK, SC, TN, TX, and UT. In some states, disability advocates have filed complaints in court. The Biden Administration has also pledged financial support to school leaders under fire in Florida for issuing masking mandates despite statewide bans. 

Read OCR’s letters to Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah here to Texas here.

OSERS Releases New Q&A on Development and Implementation of Individualized Education Programs 

On September 30th, ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued new guidance that highlights Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requirements related to the development of and implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). The Department reiterated that regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic or the mode of instruction children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The guidance covers questions in the following areas: 

  • Ensuring IEPs are in effect at the start of the school year
  • Convening the IEP, consideration of special factors
  • Determining appropriate measurable annual goals and considering the child’s need for compensatory services
  • Making extended school year (ESY) services determinations
  • Considering secondary transition services
  • Making educational placement decisions
  • Resolving disagreements regarding a child’s educational program

This document also reinforces CDC guidance on universal mask wearing as well as outlines a course of action if a parent or other member of an IEP team determines that certain COVID-19 prevention measures are necessary in order for a child with a disability to receive FAPE. If the IEP team determines that these measures are necessary for a child at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the team must include these in the child’s IEP. 

Read the full Q&A here

NCLD Provided Comments to the Department of Education’s Learning Agenda 

On September 16th, NCLD responded to a Request for Information for ED’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2022-2026 Learning Agenda. NCLD’s letter provided input for each of the six proposed areas of the Learning Agenda and recommended evidence that should be built in each area to gather key data and information on outcomes for students with disabilities. 

Read NCLD’s letter here

Teacher and School LEADERS Act was Reintroduced in Congress

On September 23rd, Senators Bennet (D-CO), Cornyn (R-TX), Scott (R-SC), and Warner (D-VA) reintroduced the Teacher School LEADERS Act, which would reform Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation. This bill would: 

  • Expand the TQP program to provide training to educators who aspire to fill leadership roles in high-need schools
  • Provide districts that receive grants to have greater flexibility over which partners to work with based on shortage areas, including special education.

Read NCLD’s statement here

In Case You Missed It:

  • NCLD announced the winners of the 2021 Everyday Champion Award. Susan Maurer, an educator at William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, NJ, and Jenny Mottes Tucker, an administrator at the Frostig School in Pasadena, CA have been recognized for going above and beyond helping children with learning and attention issues during distance learning. Read more here.
  • Join us for NCLD’s Annual Benefit on November 9th: Celebrating Forces for Change. The full event is free for all donors and registered attendees. Learn more and register here
  • The Committee for Education (CEF)’s budget book is now available for public access. The budget analysis is the most comprehensive source for information on federal education programs. Access it here

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