HR 610

By now you’ve likely seen a post from a friend or teacher than contains a reference to HR 610 (House of Representatives Bill 610).

The bill has not passed, nor has it been heard in Committee. Now that President Trump has issued a budget, we have a clearer picture of what HR 610 will mean for schools and for special education students, in particular.

Well what is it exactly?

Around $370 per kid in vouchers and abandonment of laws that require schools to facilitate student success for at-risk students.

Disabled little boy in wheelchair watching children play on playground

Why do we have federal funding of education? To help at-risk students.

Students at-risk of failing in school and dropping out include the twice exceptional, students with learning and other disabilities, the poor, and students who struggle to acquire English language literacy. Keeping them in school and learning improves our workforce and our ability to compete as a nation.

The goal of the current law is in its title: Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The ESSA formula looks at how many kids are in a state and whether some are more expensive to educate than others. For special education students, ESSA is a positive step forward with its focus on

  • improving outcomes for students with literacy-related disabilities,
  • reducing disciplinary measures and student management methods that disproportionately impact the disabled,
  • ensuring homeschool and private school students can obtain special services,
  • catching reading and language challenges early,
  • supporting twice exceptional students (those who are both gifted and disabled).

How things would change under HR 610

HR 610 repeals ESSA in its entirety.

It redistributes money from states with less kids to states with more kids. It makes no effort to allocate funds to at-risk students and it repeals legislation that directs states to help at-risk students succeed.

HR 610 won’t improve outcomes from the students who need it most

HR 610 offers families about $370 per school-age child as a voucher. There is no obligation for a private or charter schools to accept a child. For many children with disabilities, whether mild or severe, this promise of choice is an empty one.

For families considering private school, $370 per isn’t likely to tip the scale. Those families can either already afford private school, or they can’t. HR 610 doesn’t make their lives better in a meaningful way.

8.5 billion fewer dollars for at-risk students

HR 610 will divert 2.4 billion dollars from public schools, assuming private school and home school enrollment numbers do not change (about 13% of school-aged children total). The proposed budget cuts elementary and secondary education by about 6.1 billion dollars on top of that diversion.

In total, this is a cut of about $170 per student. But ESSA doesn’t allocate by student, it allocates by need. The schools most in need stand to lose much more than that.

Take for example, Garden City Public School district in Michigan, 16% of its student population is disabled. Six percent have autism spectrum disorders. About 52% live below the poverty line. It’s graduation rate has improved over the last five years.

If HR 610 is passed, Garden City can expect to lose 1.9 million dollars in annual funding. They will need to let go about 20 teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, and psychologists to survive the shortfall. In a world where there is no longer a mandate to provide services to any child who does not qualify for IDEA, these cuts will come from programs and staff that help students with disabilities succeed. Students with literacy challenges will suffer the most.

Is the current distribution and focus under ESSA just right? That certainly is worth a closer work (can you say third graders). But is throwing it out the solution? HR 610 does just that.

Next post: Let’s stop testing third graders. But in until Congress acts, try one of over 200 Boom Learning resources to help your third graders practice ELA and Math skills for testing season. These are free to try.Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 12.20.52 PM

Equal Justice Under IDEA

Free Appropriate Public Education Equal Access to Opportunity

The Supreme Court first interpreted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) thirty-five years ago. At that time, it ruled that Congress meant the words “free appropriate public education” to have meaning, rather than be a mere aspiration. Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U. S. 176 (1982).

Back then, the Court rejected the argument that IDEA required “equal education opportunity.” This week it stayed that course, ruling that IDEA does not promise “an education that aims to provide a child with a disability opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.” Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 580 U.S. __ (2017).

Free Appropriate Public Education Support to Maximize One’s Potential

In Rowley, a hearing impaired child, Amy Rowley, was performing better than “the average child in her class” and was “advancing easily from grade to grade. The district offered an FM hearing aid with a wireless transmitter. Her parents sued demanding she also be given a sign language interpreter. They argued that she was missing a portion of the classroom discussion and was not being given an equal educational opportunity. The Court determined that so long as the student was achieving at the level of an average student, the services provided were enough.

Free Appropriate Public Education = An Individualized and Just Education

Since Rowley, lower courts have struggled with deciding how much was enough. On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously defined the minimum standard as a plan reasonably calculated to allow a disabled student to receive educational benefits.

As we say in law, cases turn on facts. In a moment you’ll understand why I sum this case up as standing for the proposition that refusing to modify a plan that has not been effective when presented with a plan proven to work is a fail.

Endrew F. was diagnosed with autism at age two. Ender, described as humorous and sweet, would scream, run away, and climb over other students or furniture.
Endrew attended public school from preschool to fourth grade. His IEP each year “carried over the same basic goals and objectives from one year to the next, indicating that he was failing to make meaningful progress toward his aims.”

Insanity = Doing the Same Thing Expecting Different Results

When his parents were presented with a fifth grade IEP that was identical to those presented before, they realized it was time for a change. They enrolled him in a private school specializing in the education of autistic children.

Applying behavioral intervention, the school found methods that worked for Endrew. “Within months, Endrew’s behavior improved significantly, permitting him to make a degree of academic progress that had eluded him in public school.”

The Supreme Court Expects School Officials to Exercise Judgment

Six months after Endrew began at the private school, his public school again offered his parents essentially the same IEP as before. No effort was made to incorporate any of the learning about Endrew from his private school experience.

Following the procedures of IDEA, Endrew’s parents began the administrative and legal process of seeking reimbursement from the state of Colorado for the cost of Endrew’s private school tuition. As part of that process, district and Tenth Circuit courts concluded that school had met its burden of offering “some educational benefit” and nothing more was required. This standard had evolved in the Tenth Circuit in the absence of guidance from the Supreme Court about the minimum level of service required.

The Supreme Court reversed. It ruled that school officials were required to consider Ender F.’s specific circumstances. “A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA. The IEP must be ‘specially designed’ to meet a child’s ‘unique needs.'”

Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the unanimous court, reminded the Tenth Circuit that IDEA arose from a desire by Congress to end an age when disabled children were “either totally excluded from schools or [were] sitting idly in regular classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out’.” An acceptable IEP must do more than recreate the pre-IDEA universe.

IDEA Entitles Children to Justice, But Not Equality

The decision gives schools specific guidance. An IEP must be the result of an individualized process that considers a child’s

  • present level of achievement,
  • present level of disability, and
  • potential for growth.

Simply reissuing a prior IEP without updating it to reflect current knowledge is not acceptable after Endrew F. These elements are more than a mere checklist, they represent an enforceable standard. The IEP must result in “a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum.” Endrew’s school and the Tenth Circuit both failed to account for his increased potential for growth toward standard when the private schools behavioral methods were applied.

In a tacit acknowledgment that its decision will lead to more litigation, the Court orders lower courts to exercise deference when school officials apply their “expertise and exercise of judgment.” At the same time, deference must be earned. School officials are expected “to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in the light of his [or her] circumstances.”

Where does the confluence of Rowley and Ender F. leave us?

The situation is largely unchanged for twice exceptional children: IDEA does not provide underachievers with a path to receive services to perform at their ability; it merely provides them with a path to perform as well as an average student.

The first wave of cases will come from parents whose children improved after being removed from public school. For those parents who will can identify specific interventions that are reasonable within a public school setting, schools will need to provide those services or expect to lose lawsuits seeking reimbursement and/or services. We can expect the second wave to involve similarly situated students who have not been removed from public school.

For school districts that are responsive and individualized in their IEP process, this decision should have minimal impact. For districts that refused to consider data about a child from sources external to the public school, a major revision of policy and practice is in order.

What Changes Stays the Same

As we enter this test season, we find ourselves in the midst of uncertainty. Nonetheless, schools across the country will be testing their children in third grade and above this spring.

What will testing look like? A lot like it used to look like.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law, it contained the same fundamental requirement for testing as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Students in grades 3 through 8 must be tested in reading and math once a year, as well as once in high school. Students must also be tested in science once each in grade school, middle school, and high school.

The good news is that the results of those tests will no longer be used in the flawed adequate yearly progress formula of NCLB. Under NCLB, something as simple as a single child having a bad year (hello—health issues, family challenges, new school, you name it) could result in a school be labeled as failing. Worse, it imposed penalties on schools for failing to meet its unrealistic standards.

Although testing remains a component of ESSA, tests no longer are the sole measure of school quality. Struggling schools now receive additional assistance, rather than penalties.

The nitty gritty, however, is in the details. The regulations finalized in November of 2016 are currently suspended under an executive order. Congress is considering a variety of actions, ranging from joint resolutions to legislation, that could overturn or negate the regulations and even ESSA.

What is a state to do?

The Secretary of Education advised states to proceed with preparing and submitting their consolidated plans. Absent action from Congress or the Department of Education, the November regulations will go into effect on March 21, 2017.

Expect states to stay the course. This spring will look like last spring. Unless testing requirements are repealed outright, change on testing plans will proceed at about the same pace as turning the Titanic.

To get you prepared for testing we have featured in our store right now a variety of ELA materials.

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