Parents who challenge schools over a child’s individualized education program, or IEP, are on the hook for the cost of expert witnesses in due process cases no matter if they win or lose, but a bill introduced in Congress would change that.

Legislation introduced in the House and Senate last week would ensure that parents could recoup the cost of expert witnesses and evaluations if the family prevails in due process hearings in much the same way that attorney fees can be recovered. The bill would reverse a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that placed the burden of expert fees on parents no matter the outcome of their case.

Expert witnesses are key in due process hearings, providing technical expertise on a child’s disability and the type of assistance needed to accommodate them in the classroom, advocates say. But without the ability to recover the fees these experts charge, many families are financially prohibited from challenging decisions by their child’s school district even though they are entitled to do so under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

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“This legislation is an essential step for protecting the rights of students with disabilities and ensuring that all families, regardless of their financial resources, can advocate for and protect their children’s rights through due process,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in introducing the bill.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Congress in past years, but this is the first time that such a bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

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