Advocates, Educators Find Much To Praise And Condemn In IDEA
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 1, 2004
WASHINGTON, DC--On November 19, the U.S. Congress passed H.R. 1350, the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004".
The measure introduces a number of changes to what was originally known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
Perhaps the only element being welcomed by all concerned is a renewed commitment for the federal government to raise its level of funding to cover 40 percent of the cost of special education within the next six years. Currently, federal money makes up just 19 percent of special education cost.
States, school districts, administrators and educators are applauding the bill's increase in flexibility in how special education funds are spent. They are also praising the bill's provisions to cut down on paperwork for teachers, and to allow schools to spend more money to determine which children are eligible for special education services.
Educators and administrators are concerned, however, over more stringent guidelines regarding teacher qualifications.
Parents and advocates for children who receive special education services are worried about the bill's new discipline provisions. The law would effectively put the burden of proving that a child's "misbehavior" was related to a disability on the parents rather than schools.
The bill also would make it more difficult for parents to sue schools in order to get services they feel their children need. The bill supports a mediation process, which officials believe would give them a chance to solve disputes, but which parent and advocates believe would further delay getting results for children with disabilities.
Additionally, the bill allows districts to recover legal costs from parents or their lawyers if the courts determine that a suit is frivolous.
"For parents and children, this bill represents a step backwards," Calvin Luker, a lawyer and founder of Our Children Left Behind, told the New York Times.
"In a sense, we do feel that it's painting lipstick on a pig," Mr. Luker added. "It's still taking away rights, making it easier for the school districts to do what they want to do, and making it more difficult for parents to protect the rights of their children."
"Congress Backs Special-Ed Changes" (Washington Post)
"Changes to special ed law give states more leeway" (Stateline.org)
Text of H.R.1350: Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004
"American Foundation for the Blind Cautiously Applauds Changes to Special Education Law" (Yahoo! News)
"Parts of Special-Ed Bill Would Shift More Power to States and School Districts" (New York Times)
Council for Exceptional Children
Our Children Left Behind