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Washington, D.C. – The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed major legislation today that U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said would help improve special education services for students with disabilities and their parents.

Enzi, a senior member of the HELP Committee, and other committee members passed S. 1248, the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Improvement Act of 2003 by a vote of 21-0.

The bill would reauthorize federal funding for special education programs and work to improve the previous legislation by providing more flexibility for states to fund special education programs, improve access for parents of students with disabilities to information about available services, allow schools greater flexibility in disciplining students with disabilities, and help reduce paper work and litigation.

Enzi's written statement and highlights from the legislation are included below.

Written Statement by Senator Michael B. Enzi
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Executive Session and Markup
June 25, 2003

For those of us who are parents, we are fully mindful of the tremendously important task we have been given of raising our children. Each one of them is a precious resource and we must do everything we can to ensure they have access to a quality education that will enable them to live their dreams.

They will likely receive that education at one of our public schools, where again, it is up to us as representatives of the people of our home states to ensure that our schools meet certain exacting standards. Wyoming has been ahead of the curve in many areas related to special education, and as we take up legislation that seeks to improve on current law, we see our responsibilities as parents amplified by our duties as legislators.

That is why I am pleased to be a cosponsor of S. 1248, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003, together with Senator Gregg and Senator Kennedy. The bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act marks an important commitment from this Committee to balance all of the interests at stake in this issue.

To begin with, we cannot ensure our children will receive a good education unless we can guarantee a safe classroom environment for them, one that is conducive to learning. That is why school safety continues to have the attention of Congress. With the appropriate safeguards in place, students, teachers, administrators and other personnel can focus more on teaching our children and less on school and personal security issues.

One of those classroom security issues has to do with ensuring the behavior of students with disabilities will not be disruptive while simultaneously meeting the requirement that they be educated in the "least restrictive environment" available.

Back home in Wyoming and in my office here in Washington, I have heard from teachers and school administrators who were concerned about students with disabilities and the possible physical threat they could pose to other students or school staff. At present, the federal law explicitly prohibits the school from removing the student from class unless very specific conditions are met. In some rare instances, it has been noted that a disabled student was very aware that a school administrator could not discipline him like he would any other student, and pointed that fact out to the school administrator when confronted about his behavior.

S. 1248 addresses this issue by providing the school with greater latitude to exercise common sense. If a student violates the school's code of conduct, S. 1248 permits the school to remove a student with a disability from the classroom for up to ten days, in the same way any other child who had violated the school code would be dealt with. It would also require the school to use the "manifestation determination" that is already in place under current law to determine whether or not the student's behavior was the result of their disability. If the school determines that the behavior was not caused by the child's disability, the student may be removed for a longer period.

Once the decision has been made the child's parents still retain the right to appeal the decision to the school. The bill also provides the school with the authority to remove a student for up to 45 days for possessing drugs, a firearm, or inflicting serious bodily injury upon another student or school personnel.

This bill creates fair boundaries where students are treated as equals, and students with disabilities are given the benefit of the doubt unless they commit serious offenses. In the event a student commits a serious offense, he or she is disciplined in the same manner any other student would be treated, regardless of his or her disability.

I also wanted to highlight the need for state flexibility in spending. The inclusion of this language in the bill is critical to ensuring that students in states like my home state of Wyoming continue to receive a free and appropriate public education.

As a rural state, many communities in Wyoming have schools with fewer than fifty elementary aged students. In a community of this size, a child with a severe disability can put enormous pressure on a school district. In order to deal with this concern, Wyoming has developed a novel approach to special education. Rather than distribute federal funding to local educational agencies through a formula grant, as most states do, Wyoming essentially provides a blank check for the school districts to provide services to students with disabilities.

At the end of the year, the state reimburses the local agencies for their special education expenses, guaranteeing that students with special needs receive the services they need as well as protecting school districts and small schools from the economic impact that can sometimes occur with severely disabled children. Because of this unique approach, Wyoming funds one hundred percent of the non-federal share of special education costs.

Unfortunately, this means that Wyoming does not qualify for the same flexibility that is given to every state that funds its special education programs by providing grants to the local educational agencies, or school districts. As my colleagues are aware, current law provides for the local districts to treat a portion of federal funds as though they were local funds, meaning that they can be spent on any number of programs unrelated to special education. This provision has essentially penalized Wyoming for taking a novel approach to a common problem affecting all states. This bill corrects that inequity by permitting states that meet a high threshold for funding the non-federal share of special education programs to have similar flexibility.

There has been some expression of concern that the state flexibility provisions would be used to help balance state budgets. It is clear, however, that states will not have blanket authority to divert federal funds into any program of their choosing. The provisions in S. 1248 limit states to using these funds for programs under No Child Left Behind, special education, or teacher higher education programs. In this light, additional federal funding that is used by eligible states as non-federal funding will be an addition to the state's current education budget.

For Wyoming, this means that programs designed to help at-risk youth can be funded with a share of federal funding without reducing services for students with disabilities. The alternative is for Wyoming to continue to be denied the same flexibility enjoyed by other states even though the same services are provided to every student with a disability.

Mr. Chairman, we have a duty to our children both as their parents and as their representatives in the Congress. This legislation will help ensure that we fulfill both duties so that our children will continue to have access to the same kind of quality education that we took for granted when we were in school.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003
Bill Summary

Increasing Accountability and Improving Education Results

· Ensures that States focus on the goal of improving academic results and functional performance rather than meeting the requirements of a burdensome procedural checklist.

· Clarifies methods to measure student progress.

· Provides for results from alternate assessments to be incorporated into States' No Child Left Behind Act accountability systems.

· Provides up to $3 million for a national study of valid and reliable alternate assessment systems and how alternate assessments align with state content standards.

Improving Monitoring and Enforcement

· Provides the Secretary and the States with greater authority and new tools to implement, monitor and enforce the law using performance data.

· Requires States to meet clear benchmarks to ensure all children with special needs receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

· Directs the Secretary and the States to apply clear appropriate sanctions to address non-compliance with IDEA requirements.

Resolving Conflicts and Reducing Litigation

· Provides new opportunities, such as alternative dispute resolution, for parents and schools to address concerns before the need for a due process hearing.

· Clarifies mediation is available at any time and that schools and parents have equal access to the due process system.

· Requires complaints of either the school or parents to be clear and specific before going to a due process hearing.

· Encourages prompt resolution of concerns by establishing a two-year statute of limitations for filing a complaint, and a 90-day limit for filing appeals to a court, unless State law provides for alternative time frames.

· Requires that hearing officers make decisions based upon substantive grounds--not on technical errors that have no effect on the child's education.

· Prohibits hearing officers from hearing matters in which they have a personal or professional interest that would conflict with their objectivity in the hearing.

· Establishes minimum competency standards for hearing officers.

Improving Discipline and Ensuring Safety

· Improves current discipline provisions by simplifying the framework for schools to administer the law, while ensuring the rights and the safety of all children.

· Ensures that the IEP contains positive behavioral interventions and supports for a child whose behavior impedes the child's learning, or that of others.

· Requires schools to consider whether a child's behavior was the result of their disability when considering disciplinary action and to provide a behavioral assessment and appropriate behavioral interventions to those children who receive a disciplinary action.

Reducing Paperwork

· Streamlines State and local requirements to ensure that paperwork focuses on improved educational and functional results for children with disabilities.

· Clarifies that no information is required in an IEP beyond what federal law requires.

· Eliminates the requirements that IEPs must include benchmarks and short-term objectives that generate more paperwork, but requires a description of how progress is measured, including quarterly reports to parents.

· Reduces the number of times that procedural safeguards notices must be sent out to parents to once per year, unless the parent registers a complaint or requests a copy.

· Ensures that State regulations are consistent with IDEA and that any State-imposed requirements or paperwork reporting are clearly identified to local educational agencies.

· Requires the Secretary to develop model forms, review paperwork requirements and provide Congress with proposals to reduce the paperwork burden on teachers.

Improving Parental Involvement

· Provides parents with increased information and access to resources to support parents through dispute resolution and due process.

· Encourages parent and community training information centers (PTIs) to focus on improving parent-school collaboration and early, effective dispute resolution.

· Encourages PTIs to use scientifically based practices and information in assisting parents, and to work in collaboration with the Regional Resource Centers.

· Allows parents and schools to agree that a student reevaluation is unnecessary, especially when the student is finishing high school.

· Allows a parent to request an initial evaluation of a child for IDEA services.

· Allows parents and schools to agree to make changes to an IEP during the year without having to reconvene an entire IEP meeting, saving time for both parents and schools.

Supporting Teachers

· Clarifies that most special education teachers do not have to be certified in every subject they teach but must be certified in special education.

· Extends the timeframe for special education teachers to be highly qualified to the end of the 2006-07 school year.

· Designates 100% of state program improvement grants to support preparation and professional development for teachers.

· Authorizes two grant programs for enhanced support and training for special educators and training to support general educators, principals, and administrators.

· Authorizes local educational agencies to use a portion of Part B funds for providing professional development to help teachers deliver scientifically based academic instruction and behavioral interventions in order to help children succeed in school.

· Allows States to use the increased state activities funds to assist in meeting personnel shortages, and provide technical assistance and professional development to teachers.

Increasing Flexibility and Local Control

· Authorizes local educational agencies in compliance with IDEA to use up to 8% of the federal funds as local funds and up to 25% once full funding is achieved. This funding will be available for use by local educational agency for local priorities.

· Authorizes states in compliance with IDEA that fund 80% or more of the non-federal cost of special education and related services to use the same amounts of flexibility as local educational agencies to support purposes of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and needs-based student and teacher higher education programs.

Reducing Misidentification of Non-Disabled Children

· Allows for the development of new approaches to determine whether students have specific learning disabilities by clarifying that schools are not limited to using the IQ-achievement discrepancy model.

· Provides funds for training school personnel in effective teaching strategies and interventions to prevent over-identification and misidentification of children.

Providing Early Access to Services and Support

· Authorizes local educational agencies to use up to 15% of IDEA funds for support services to help students not yet identified with disabilities but who require additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment.

· Authorizes States to create a seamless system for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities, giving parents the opportunity to continue services with the provider of their choice.

· Requires that initial evaluations occur within 60 days of referral unless the state currently has a policy that establishes a timeline for evaluation.

· Maintains early intervention and preschool special education programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities.

Improving Transition Services

· Simplifies the rules for transition services--activities that help a student begin planning for life after high school--by requiring that these services and planning begin at age 14.

· Provides an option to develop a 3-year IEP for students ages 18 to 21, to directly focus parents and schools on long-term goals for helping students transition to postsecondary activities.

· Facilitates transition to post-secondary activities by focusing exit evaluations on recommendations to assist the child in meeting post-secondary goals.

· Promotes the involvement of the State vocational rehabilitation system with disabled students while still in secondary school.

Reforming Special Education Finance and Funding

· Simplifies funding for grants to States and local educational agencies, state administration, other state-level activities, risk pool funds, and flexibility authority making future years' funding levels and amounts available more predictable.

· Provides new resources to assist local educational agencies and charter schools that are local educational agencies in addressing the needs of high-need children and unanticipated enrollment by establishing a risk pool fund to assist in meeting those needs.

· Caps the amount for administrative overhead at the fiscal 2003 level while authorizing States to retain an increased portion for other required state-level activities--this amount would also be capped after two years.

· Clarifies that funds re-designated as local pursuant to the flexibility provisions can be used to provide the non-federal match for purposes of applying for federal reimbursement of allowable costs for special education related services under Medicaid.

Improving Research

· Creates the National Center for Special Education Research

· Provides for a smooth transition of research activities from the Office of Special Education to the Institute of Education Sciences.