NCSECS is entering 2019 with a renewed energy to pursue our mission that students with disabilities can fully access and thrive in charter schools designed to enable all students to succeed. Here are our the top 5 special education issues that we will closely monitor throughout the year:
1. Discipline & Student Civil Rights. Betsy DeVos ended 2018 by rescinding the 2014 Discipline Guidance that compelled public school systems to track, evaluate, and address discipline practices that disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities. NCSECS commented that “the guidance was useful in helping schools and districts design programs that curb disproportionate discipline” and called the guidance revocation “a significant step backwards for students with disabilities and students of color...who deserve more.”
Furthermore, in September of 2018, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) unveiled the framework for how they plan to "re-think special education." Although the “support” and “partnership” elements of the framework are encouraging, NCSECS remains concerned about potential loosening of federal oversight especially over states with poor track records of serving students disabilities.
2. Blue Wave & ESSA: The 2018 midterm elections resulted in an influx of new democratic representatives on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures. NCSECS anticipates monitoring the impact of the blue wave on state level education policy and practice, especially as it relates to efforts to protect students’ civil rights and increase access to high quality charter schools.
Most notably, states are implementing their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans which include how each state will educate students with disabilities. Among the concerns with state ESSA plans is, thirty-three states do not separate out the performance of students with disabilities in their school rating systems which can mask poor performance of students with disabilities under stronger performance in general education. The omission of the special education sub-group in the majority of state’s ESSA plans hurts efforts to create comprehensive systems of improvement that help all students succeed and is a missed opportunity to help districts align efforts between ESSA and IDEA.
3. Results-Driven Accountability. Reflected in the elements of ESSA, results-driven accountability (RDA) is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education that requires states to improve academic outcomes for exceptional learners while also meeting the procedural aspects of IDEA. OSERS and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) gathered input through December 2018 from stakeholders. NCSECS believes that RDA is not meeting its original mission in part, because OSEP does not provide focused technical assistance (TA) to states who fall short in supporting all of their schools, including charter schools. In addition to ensuring charter schools are included in state plans and are receiving TA, we recommend “redesigning RDA to require States to include robust measures that utilize data related to student progress and performance.”
Related to RDA, we also anticipate that state and grass-roots efforts to develop more nuanced accountability systems that acknowledge the importance of tracking and valuing the growth of all students relative to high standards, including our most complex learners, will generate interesting proposals that will be worth careful consideration.
4. Federal Legislation. The Keep All Students Safe Act (KASSA) is an opportunity for the federal government to demonstrate its commitment to student civil rights. KASSA prohibits seclusion and seeks to prevent and limit the use of restraint in schools. NCSECS supports this bill, which, if enacted, would considerably strengthen protections in every state and ensure the safety of all students and school personnel. The bill also promotes a shift toward preventing problematic behavior through use of de-escalation techniques, conflict management, and evidence-based positive behavioral interventions and supports.
NCSECS has also supported the Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization, called the Aim Higher Act which was introduced in 2018 by the House Democrats and includes key provisions to improve teacher training and ensure greater access to higher education for students with disabilities. A reauthorization of the HEA provides a crucial opportunity to strengthen teacher preparation programs for traditional and charter schools. Teachers require multi-faceted training programs, such as MTSS and UDL to increase access to inclusive classrooms and support the learning needs of all learners.
5. Embroiled States. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint against the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports (G-NETS) in 2016 alleging that the state discriminates against students with disabilities by segregating them from their peers without disabilities. A scathing expose in October 2018 by The New Yorker highlighted the abuse and lack of educational options for students in G-NETS schools. The case will most likely eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Its outcome will have widespread influence on how we educate students with emotional and behavioral challenges.
In Texas, the Houston Chronicle exposed a 12-year trend of districts across the state proactively decreasing the identification of and and provision of services to students with disabilities. OSEP found Texas in violation of IDEA and now the Texas Education Agency must roll-out a multi-faceted, and multi-million dollar, strategy to address violations. How Texas addresses under-identification and service provision will set important precedent for how federal and state agencies work together to uphold IDEA.