NCLD Announces First 100 Days Agenda

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the next Administration will play an important role in quickly addressing significant equity gaps for students with disabilities, students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and other systematically marginalized students. NCLD calls on the Administration to take steps to meaningfully address the following issues within the first 100 days of the Administration to ensure equitable educational access and opportunity for every child.

Support States & School Districts in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic to Maintain a Safe & Equitable Education for all Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that have long plagued our education system. As a result of school closures, students have lost anywhere from a quarter to a full year of learning and districts are facing serious budget shortfalls. Millions of students have failed to attend virtual classes this fall, and far too many families still lack access to reliable internet or a computer at home. To prevent growing achievement gaps and ensure equitable education for all, schools must have the resources to not only manage existing health and safety challenges but to also innovate and rethink instruction and learning. To address this crisis, the next Administration must:

  • Prioritize a COVID-19 stimulus bill that invests heavily in public schools, providing at least $12B for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), $12B for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); $1B for Title III of ESSA, and $4B to address the digital divide through the E-Rate program.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for IDEA, Title I of ESSA, Title III of ESSA, and the E-Rate program for FY22.
  • Issue guidance and provide technical assistance to states on how to administer assessments and meet accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Issue guidance on evaluation and service delivery for students with disabilities during COVID-19.

Enforce Civil Rights and Invest in Educational Equity

Equity gaps have long-existed in the education system and they have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government plays a critical role in enforcing federal education and civil rights laws. This must be done through adequate funding for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), comprehensive data collection, thorough investigations into complaints, and responsive guidance. The next Administration must: 

  • Issue an Executive Order affirming the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as a civil rights enforcement agency and creating a commission to examine the capacity and needs of OCR.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Office for Civil Rights.
  • Direct ED to administer the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) during the 2020-2021 school year and annually thereafter, expanding the collection of data so it is universal and disaggregated by race/ethnicity (American Community Survey) and by disability category.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for innovative assessment grants and state assessment grants.
  • Issue guidance on and provide technical assistance on significant disproportionality in special education.

Prioritize Literacy Rates & Evidence-based Literacy Instruction

Literacy has become a national crisis in recent years. We have seen only marginal gains in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and socioeconomic disparities in literacy are growing: Black and Hispanic students enter high school with average literacy skills three years behind those of white and Asian students, and students from low-income families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind those of high-income students. For decades, experts have known what it takes to effectively teach reading skills, but school instruction has not caught up. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused additional instructional loss for all students in reading, literacy must become a national focus in every grade. To address this crisis, the next Administration must:

  • Establish a Commission that builds off of the work of the National Reading Panel and is charged with assessing the existence and quality of evidence-based literacy instruction in schools across the nation and developing a plan to get evidence-based literacy instruction in every classroom.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Comprehensive Literacy State Development program under ESSA. 

Spur Education Research, Development and Innovation

The current reality of COVID-19 requires new solutions to persistent problems. There is much we don’t yet know about how best to instruct diverse learners (including students with disabilities and English Learners) in a virtual environment. With virtual learning becoming a more frequent mode of instruction, additional research is needed to ensure that all learners have access and can benefit from it. At the same time, longstanding research to practice gaps must be eliminated so that research findings can quickly make it to the hands of educators and parents. 

  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Institute for Education Science, the National Center for Special Education Research, and the National Center for Education Research. 
  • Invest in research on innovative assessment models, validity and reliability of virtual assessments, and considerations for these assessments for students with disabilities.
  • Establish a Commission to explore how to improve coordination among education research  stakeholders, with a particular focus on eliminating the research to practice gap

Create Safe and Healthy Schools for Every Child

Every child should have access to a safe, welcome, and nurturing learning environment, regardless of where they live or who they are. Yet, this is not the reality for our nation’s most systemically marginalized students. For far too long, harsh discipline policies have disproportionately affected students with disabilities and students of color. Additionally, schools have struggled to address chronic absenteeism and a lack of classroom integration, both of which are detrimental to student achievement. With students increasingly learning virtually, many remain disconnected and disengaged from learning. A large number of systematically marginalized students are also experiencing additional stress due to COVID-19. Upon the return to school buildings, it will be more important than ever to address the historic barriers to developing a positive and inclusive school climate and providing a safe, supportive learning environment for all. In response, the Administration must:

  • Ban the use of federal dollars for school resource officers
  • Work with Congress to pass a comprehensive school climate and positive school discipline bill that bans harmful practices such as corporal punishment, seclusion, and mechanical and chemical restraint, significantly limits use of restraint in schools and promotes evidenced-based practices that improve student health and safety.
  • Reinstate guidance issued by the Obama Administration on discipline in school.
  • Issue guidance on student engagement and exclusionary discipline during COVID-19.


The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

Click Here for a PDF version of NCLD’s First 100 Days Agenda.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy 

June 2020 Policy News Round Up

This June, Congress tackled reopening schools safely as advocates push for more funding and safer schools. See how NCLD worked on behalf of people with disabilities this month. 

NCLD and 13 Partner Organizations Release Recommendations for How States and Districts Can Prioritize Students Hit Hardest by Education Disruptions

NCLD worked with partners to develop a set of recommendations to guide how funding can prioritize equity in the state and district response to COVID-19. We agreed that:

  • “Our most vulnerable students—like those from low-income backgrounds, students experiencing homelessness, immigrant students without comprehensive access to our social safety net, and all students who have been historically underserved—have been hit first and hardest by the disruptions. Without an intense and intentional focus on equity, they also will be the last to recover academically, socially, and emotionally.” 
  • “As resources grow scarce, and likely become scarcer, we must target funds and supports to our most vulnerable students. We must design emergency response and recovery programs that prioritize these students from the beginning, rather than include them as an afterthought.”

Read the full set of recommendations here.

NEW: NCLD Parent Advocacy Toolkit to Help Students With Learning and Attention Issues During COVID-19

Based on the recommendations (above) developed by NCLD and partners, NCLD created a toolkit to help parents advocate for equity as school districts develop reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year. This toolkit can help advocates speak up for students with learning and attention issues during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Using these recommendations, advocates can encourage decision makers in their state and school district to use funding and resources in ways that will address the needs of students with disabilities. Download the full toolkit here.  

How the Federal Government is Responding to the the School Funding Crisis

The Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee estimating how much reopening schools would cost.

The organization estimates that states will need between $158.1 billion and $244.6 billion in total additional funding to reopen school buildings safely and serve all students in the next academic year. While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this month that would provide $58 billion in funding for public schools, the Senate has yet to take action. Although, the Senate Republicans are warming to the idea of providing additional funding. 

U.S. House of Representatives Committee Discusses Reopening Schools 

The House Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing to discuss COVID-19 reopening procedures and their relationship to racial inequalities. Testimonies, especially that of former Secretary of Education Dr. John B. King, Jr. (now President and CEO of the Education Trust), highlighted policy options that could prevent reentry procedures from exacerbating existing educational inequities. Dr. King stressed that “students are going to come back to school having lost as much as 70% of the ground of the school year in math; 30% or more in reading, and the way that we address that is to provide additional instructional support, particularly critical for students with disabilities and English learners who have been without services, in many cases, since March.”

In addition, Dr. King and others pushed the Committee to consider requiring states, as a condition for receiving new federal stimulus dollars, to protect their highest need districts from cuts, and requiring districts to protect their highest need schools from cuts. Many of these districts have a high percentage of students of color and have been historically underfunded due to a variety of reasons including systemic racism. Watch the full recording of the hearing here

Growing Number of School Districts Do Away with Police Officers in Schools

In light of recent events including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent protests, many schools have decided to cancel contracts with School Resource Officers (SROs). The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), estimates that between 14,000 and 20,000 SROs are currently in service nationwide. However, the presence of SROs is associated with more suspensions and expulsions (which we know from existing CRDC data disproportionately affect students with disabilities and students of color). Research also suggests that the presence of SROs might increase the chances that students are arrested for low-level offenses such as disorderly conduct. 

Recently, NCLD joined with other organizations in support of Civil Rights Principles for

Safe, Healthy, and Inclusive School Climates. These principles emphasize the use of supportive discipline practices and call for a prohibition on using federal funds on school police or surveillance. Read the full set of principles here.

Self-Advocacy and Making an Impact on Education Policy

NCLD hosted a Congressional breakfast last month in Washington D.C., as part of a week of Dyslexia Hill Day events. Members of Congress spoke to a crowd of advocates, parents, and children whose lives have all been affected by learning disabilities.
Representative Larry Bucshon of Indiana (pictured above) shared his story about his daughter’s struggles to read and her eventual dyslexia diagnosis. On the verge of tears, he described his frustration with a school administrator who did not understand dyslexia.
Then he talked about how his experiences with his daughter helped him decide as a congressman to champion the rights of students with learning and attention issues.
His story struck a chord with the two of us—summer interns with NCLD. It was so similar to our own experiences as students with learning and attention issues in public school.
During our time in school, we often found the only way to get the resources we needed was to advocate for ourselves. We constantly had to explain our learning disabilities to teachers and administrators who did not understand the way we learned. It became our responsibility to defend our right to receive the accommodations necessary to do our best work.
Hearing Representative Bucshon’s story made us realize that self-advocacy doesn’t stop at the classroom, school, district, or state.
We are used to advocating for ourselves in our schools and in our workplaces. But what we didn’t recognize is that our experiences are connected to disability rights issues and education issues that are a lot bigger than us.
We realized we can use our experiences advocating for ourselves to support the work of policymakers who are working to affect larger change within the education system.
Many of the members of Congress talked about how they didn’t know much about the problems students with learning and attention issues faced until they either had a personal experience with their own child, like Representative Bucshon, or heard stories from students and families in their district. Hearing those stories from families is what inspired many of the members of Congress to become champions for the rights of the 1 and 5 students with learning and attention issues.
That made us realize how important it is to advocate beyond the classroom and school: parents and students who have shared their stories with their representatives have become advocates for all students with learning and attention issues.
That’s why we will continue to a share our stories and support legislation that addresses the problems that students with learning and attention issues face.
We encourage you to share your story with your representative, too. There are many ways to share your story with Congress members who can advocate for educational support for students with learning and attention issues.
Things you can do right now: write your congressperson a letter, visit their local office, or contact them by phone.
Click here to find out who your representative is:
Caida Mendelsohn and Melissa Rey served as public policy and advocacy interns this summer.