New Legislative Trends Report: State Special Education Laws

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With the recent re-authorization of ESEA, attention on Capitol Hill is beginning to focus on another long-overdue federal education statute: IDEA. For the winter edition of the AASA Legislative Trends Report, we decided to examine whether there were any state legislative trends pertaining to special education students, programs and personnel since 2013. Specifically, we wanted to trace whether there were any trends related to dyslexia and IEP processes that could potentially impact discussions on these issues at the federal level during IDEA reauthorization. Our findings are here: http://aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Policy_and_Advocacy/files/DisabilityStateTrendsWinter2016.pdf

USED Kicks of ESSA Rulemaking Process

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The Education Department (ED) has posted a notice of intention to establish a negotiated rulemaking (sometimes called "neg reg") committee to prepare proposed regulations in issues related to two topical areas: 1) assessments, and 2) supplement/not supplant, and it can be found here. The notice will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, and that direct link is here

What will be covered in "neg reg"?

  • Prepare proposed regulations that would update existing assessment regulations to reflect changes to section 1111(b)(2) of the ESEA, including:
    • Locally selected nationally recognized high school assessments, under section 1111(b)(2)(H);
    • The exception for advanced mathematics assessments in 8th grade, under section 1111(b)(2)(C);
    • Inclusion of students with disabilities in academic assessments, including alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, subject to a cap of 1.0% of students assessed for a subject;
    • Inclusion of English learners in academic assessments and English language proficiency assessments; and
    • Computer-adaptive assessments.
  • Prepare proposed regulations related to the requirement under section 1118(b) of the ESEA that title I, part A funds be used to supplement, and not supplant, nonfederal funds, specifically:
    • Regarding the methodology a local educational agency uses to allocate State and local funds to each title I school to ensure compliance with the supplement not supplant requirement; and
    • The timeline for compliance.

There will be two "neg reg" sessions, each in DC, scheduled for March 21-23 and April 6-8, 2016 There is an optional third session April 18-19.  In addition to The notice also requests nominations for individual negotiators who represent key stakeholder constituencies for the issues to be negotiated to serve on the committee. AASA will be submitting nominations and reaching out to members to support these nominations. AASA expressed its interest in being a neg reg participant in our earlier response to the Department's request for information (here). Should you be interested in submitting a nomination, or being nominated, please reach out to Noelle (nellerson at aasa.org). The deadline for submitting nominations is February 25th, 2016. 

E-Rate Funding Year 2016 Application Filing Window Opens Feb 3

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This guest post comes from AASA Executive Director Dan Domenech. Dan serves on the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), which oversees the four programs of the Universal Service Fund, including E-Rate.

Tomorrow, February 3, marks the beginning of the 2016 application filing window for the E-Rate program. The filing window will be open through April 29, meaning school districts will have 87 days (nearly two weeks longer than normal!) to submit an E-Rate application.

2014 was a big year for the E-Rate program, bringing both a program modernization and an increase in the funding cap. The updated program came with a new application process, and USAC is currently in the middle of migrating the E-Rate information technology system and forms to a new platform.

Last year (2015 application window), applicants expressed frustration with the new application forms and portals. While USAC has tried to remedy these shortcomings, there may still be some hangups. We encourage you to give us feedback as you work through this year's application to submit your E-Rate forms. Tell us what worked and what didn't; let us know what went according to plan and where there is room for improvement. 

Share these comments with us by contacting Noelle Ellerson (nellerson@aasa.org). You can also submit your feedback to USAC via EPCfeedback@usac.org. 

You can read USAC's announcement on the 2016 application window here.

The Start of a New Blog Series---A New IDEA: The Changes We Need In Federal Special Education Policy

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Now that we are finished lobbying members of Congress to fix ESEA, AASA’s Policy and Advocacy team is beginning to explore the areas in IDEA that must be addressed in the next reauthorization. To assist us and to spur conversation and discussion with our superintendents, it is with great excitement that we launch a monthly series of blogposts by professors, lawyers, education researchers and other experts on issues to consider for IDEA reauthorization (with a focus on ways to improve IDEA). Our first post, below, is a very important one because it tackles the recently released guidance by the Department of Education on the provision of a “free appropriate public education” and the obligation of school districts to incorporate high expectations for students with disabilities into IEPs. If you haven’t read this, please read the guidance itself as well as our post below. In a nut-shell, the Dear Colleague letter proposes that districts adopt standard based-IEPs for all students with disabilities. As we begin to discuss IDEA reauthorization, this Dear Colleague letter will certainly be a boon to advocates who would like to mandate a standards-based approach to IEPs, and as such, a deep look at this letter is a terrific way to start our series examining how IDEA can/must be improved as well as, importantly, how it should not be changed.

A New IDEA: The Changes We Need In Federal Special Education Policy, Entry #1

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Administrators in public schools are well aware of the fact that the Department of Education issues "Dear Colleague" letters on many issues from time to time. Often these create controversy and confusion. One of these, the November 16  Letter about a free appropriate public education, is discussed below.

November 16, “Dear colleague” Letter by the US Department of Education about a FAPE: A school attorney’s response

By Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

 The seven-page Letter tells educators—presumably, general and special educators—that holding students with disabilities to “rigorous academic standards and high expectations” is a “shared responsibility for all of us,” and that these students should be taught the “same challenging academic content and achievement standards [as] all children in the State”… at the “grade level in which the child is enrolled” The Letter raises many concerns.

 First, it is unclear whether the general education teachers and administrators’ perspective was taken into account.  Their voice and leadership in this “shared responsibility,” especially as most services are provided in general education classrooms, is vital. Two special education Department offices authored this Letter—OSEP (Office of Special Education) and OSERS (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services). Where is general education’s OESE—Office of Elementary and Secondary Education?  While this Letter presumes to be about special education, it is also very much about general education.  OESE needs to be at the planning table especially since the Letter urges the same standards for all students “regardless of nature or severity of the disability.”  Without input from general education, this Letter is simply a one-sided approach—like the tail wagging the dog.   

 Second, while no one disagrees about the importance of holding all students to high standards and expectations, I fear that the Letter downplays the cornerstone of special education law—individualization.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides services to meet eligible students’ unique needs. Yet, this Letter appears to gloss over the reality that, even with similar curricular standards, students’ rate of learning and ability to master skills and concepts will differ, as they are impacted by the nature and severity of their disability.  The concept of “closing the gap” (Letter, at page 5), while prominent in this Letter, is inconsistent with the IDEA!    

Special education focuses on whether students make gains in their areas of need—not on how they measure up against others. For some students with disabilities, the gap between them and their non-disabled peers will widen over time.  That does not mean per se that they are failing to learn, or that their teachers are failing to teach them. Sadly, this Letter leads us to see failure even when students succeed—in direct contrast to the law’s mission and good education practice.

Third, in order to include students with disabilities in general education settings, this Letter favors the use of modifications of assignments, audio and other aids—inadvertently creating a trap for schools. Such methods often bypass the student’s unique needs and entitlement to a FAPE (free appropriate public education). The sad reality is that schools that follow this Letter’s approach may lose at due process hearings and in the courts because the approach can be viewed as a way to get students to “pass” and get “through” school—without providing the individualized benefit the law requires.   

In sum, general education teachers and administrators who currently work in our schools need to lead the effort and be at the table to build schools that truly educate all students—from the most needy to the most advanced.  Their input is especially vital now, given the Department’s push for inclusion to occur in general education classrooms.  The Department should aid schools in their efforts to comply with current legal mandates, not divert them to paths that contradict the law. 

 Miriam Kurtzig Freedman has written six books (including the influential Fixing Special Education) on law and education and has spent her career in public education as a teacher, hearing officer, and an attorney representing public schools.

USED Releases Guidance to States to Help Reduce Testing

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Today USED released guidance to States to help reduce and hopefully eliminate redundancy, unhelpful, or low-quality assessments for students.  It’s important to note that this guidance addresses the use of current federal dollars under NCLB during this school year and next school year, and that ED will be working to provide further clarification in the coming months regarding how funds under the new legislation—ESSA—may be utilized in the unnecessary testing arena.

Acting Secretary John King addresses this guidance in a short video also released today.

Politics K12 (EdWeek) has a good write-up on the guidance. Check it out.

AASA to Host Webinar on Student Privacy Feb 18, with NASBE and SIIA

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Over the past three years, many states have passed or implemented new student data privacy laws affecting schools, state departments of education, and school service providers. As this policy area continues to move at the state level and starts to gain traction at the federal level, this free webinar is a primer for policymakers, educators and school officials. It will highlight trends of requirements on schools, teachers, and service providers and privacy considerations for schools when adopting new technology.

This webinar is co-hosted by SIIA’s Education Technology Industry Network (ETIN), AASA, The School Superintendent’s Association, and the National Association of School Boards (NASBE).

The webinar will be held at 4 pm on Thursday February 18. Register today!