The U.S. Department of Education is weighing in after confusion forced some students with disabilities to withdraw from or forgo applying to postsecondary programs.

The federal agency issued a question-and-answer guide this week specifying that both vocational rehabilitation and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funds can be used to cover the cost of dual enrollment, comprehensive transition programs and other postsecondary offerings for people with disabilities.

The move comes a year after several dozen advocacy groups and other stakeholders wrote to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asking for guidance on the issue.

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Many families request that school districts pay for students with disabilities to enroll in postsecondary programs during their final years of eligibility under IDEA. Or, once out of high school, families ask vocational rehabilitation to foot the bill for such programs.

But, disability advocates said that confusion stemming from the Department of Education and its Rehabilitation Services Administration had led some schools and vocational rehabilitation agencies to refuse to pay for postsecondary programs while others did.

As a result, some students with intellectual disabilities missed out on postsecondary programs because their school or vocational rehabilitation funding was discontinued while other students were dissuaded from applying, advocates said.

The 16-page document issued jointly by the Education Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and the agency’s Office of Postsecondary Education aims to level the playing field. The document addresses the ability of students with disabilities to be dual enrolled in high school and at a postsecondary institution and it spells out who may pay for services.

“All students deserve the freedom to pursue an education that is challenging and allows them to reach their full potential,” DeVos said. “I hope this information will make clear what the law says and serve as a resource to families, individualized education program (IEP) teams and state VR agencies as they continue to collaborate and find ways to increase postsecondary opportunities — and success — for students and youth with disabilities.”

Stephanie Smith Lee, senior policy adviser at the National Down Syndrome Congress, said the Education Department’s guide looks “very promising” on an initial read, but would require further analysis. The document seems to clarify that vocational rehabilitation funds can be used for postsecondary programs, she said, but the statements surrounding IDEA appear more nuanced.

Nonetheless, Lee welcomed the Education Department’s input on the issue and said it would surely make a difference for students with disabilities.

“This is going to open doors,” she said.

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