Mr. Biden Goes to Washington:
What the New Administration Means for Special Education
Franczek P.C.: Dana Fattore Crumley & Kendra Yoch
As we near the first 30 days of the new administration, we are gaining some additional insights into what we will see from President Biden and the Department of Education. The emerging themes are funding and equity.
For special education leaders, the most relevant funding initiative is “full funding” of IDEA. The law provides for federal funding up to 40% of the average per pupil expenditure, but that level of support has never been achieved and currently stands around 14%. More than doubling federal funding of special education would significantly impact the provision of services to students with disabilities. Additionally, Biden’s agenda includes numerous other special education-related funding proposals, including tripling funding for Title I; increasing teacher pay and benefits; doubling the number of psychologists, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools; increasing “wrap-around” services; increasing funding for teachers to earn additional certification in high-demand areas like special education; universal preschool; funding for early childhood development experts; career and vocational education; and improvements for school building infrastructure. Of course, funding initiatives need to be approved by Congress, which is currently focused on COVID relief. The American Rescue Plan includes about $130 billion for K-12 schools, which targets staffing, mitigation measures, and addressing learning loss. We will be monitoring the fate of this legislation and the proposals above.
Other initiatives President Biden has expressed support for include the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would significantly reduce the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, and fulling implementing the disproportionality rule, which addresses racial and ethnic disparities in special education. We also expect to see an increase in investigation and enforcement activity from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) with respect to all forms of discrimination, including disability-based discrimination. OCR initiated several investigations related to remote learning for students with disabilities at the end of the prior administration. Additional investigations and monitoring on this issue may be on the horizon. Additionally, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has indicated that more guidance related to providing IDEA services during the pandemic will be published in the next few months.
President Biden has also made equity a significant priority for his administration. Related to education, that includes proposals for funding to level the playing field between rich and poor school districts, efforts to improve teacher diversity, and building flagship schools and programs in low-income communities and communities of color, as well as increased enforcement of civil rights laws by OCR.
The change in administration means a significant change in approach, including refocusing on public schools and equity issues as well as an increased role for unions. These themes are apparent in the recently issued guidance from the Department of Education on reopening schools. The next “volume” of the guidance is expected to have additional information and strategies related to addressing the disruptions caused by the pandemic, such as meeting the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of students. We anticipate this guidance will have particular significance for special educators.
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