Disability Advocates Warn Against Overturning Education Rules
Advocates are working to block efforts to rescind Obama-era education regulations, a move they say would weaken accountability for students with disabilities.
Concerns are stemming from a resolution currently making its way through Congress that would toss out rules guiding implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the nation’s primary education law.
A bipartisan rewrite of what was previously known as No Child Left Behind, the 2015 legislation granted significant authority to states while retaining accountability requirements for students with disabilities and other subgroups.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Though the proposed resolution would do nothing to alter the law itself, eliminating the regulations would leave more latitude to states to interpret what the law means, advocates say.
“We have worked hard for years to ensure that our kids count and that districts are accountable for their learning,” said Denise Marshall, executive director of The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. “We cannot imagine how, without regulation, the Department (of Education) will engender compliance with (the) new statute in 50 states plus territories.”
The resolution to nullify the regulations has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is poised to come before the Senate any day. President Donald Trump has signaled that he would sign the measure.
If the regulations disappear, the implications for students with disabilities are likely to be in the details, advocates say.
For example, regulations currently limit “n-size” — the minimum number of students needed to qualify as a subgroup for the purpose of reporting — a figure which can determine whether students with disabilities are included or get overlooked in accountability reports, said Kim Musheno, director of public policy at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.
In another instance, Musheno indicated that the education law requires that “consistently underperforming students” be identified, but it’s the regulations that spell out what “consistently” means.
“The law will still require states to develop accountability systems, including data on how different groups are performing. However, the regulations to implement the accountability provisions provide important clarity for states to ensure that students with disabilities are fully included in the system,” Musheno said.
Advocacy groups including the National Disability Rights Network, the Council for Exceptional Children, the Autism Society, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the National Down Syndrome Society have sent action alerts in recent weeks urging their members to call their senators and ask that they oppose the resolution.
If approved, advocates say it would mark the first time that Congress has ever overturned an education regulation, superseding a months-long regulatory process during which the Education Department received more than 21,000 comments.
Republican lawmakers, however, say the resolution is merely an effort to correct an overreach of the Obama Education Department.
“The goal of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is to send power back to parents, teachers, schools and states, rather than Washington bureaucrats,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “I’m gravely concerned by an Obama administration accountability regulation that flies in the face of this bipartisan legislation that overwhelmingly passed Congress.”