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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, hailed Friday's passage of legislation that he worked diligently on to help ensure a better education for our nation's students with disabilities.
The Senate unanimously agreed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Improvement Act of 2004 conference report, H.R. 1350 late Friday. The legislation would reauthorize federal funding for special education programs and improve the previous IDEA legislation. IDEA was first enacted in 1975 with the intention of helping local schools provide free and adequate public education for students with special needs.

Enzi, an original cosponsor of the bill and a member of the conference committee that worked out differences between House and Senate versions, said the legislation makes many improvements that will benefit students. Among the improvements is earlier access to services and support, state determination of their own definition of a highly qualified teacher, more flexibility to states to fund special education programs, and schools would get greater flexibility to discipline students.

"This bill better enables parents, teachers and the students themselves to improve their learning environment. It allows teachers to worry more about lesson plans than lawsuits. Student papers become more of the focus rather than paper work. This law also allows educators to give students who don't need to be classified as special need students the early help they need to avoid this classification," Enzi said.

The bill would allow states to set aside funds to be used in identifying learning problems in students from an early age and intervening with tutoring and special assistance. This identification and intervention will help students remain in the mainstream of education.

The IDEA reauthorization would require every disabled student to be taught by a highly qualified teacher, while maintaining state flexibility in determining what constitutes highly qualified.

"We've made a change that will ensure that disabled children will be taught by a highly qualified teacher. It also recognizes the challenges rural schools have in recruiting and retaining those teachers," said Enzi.

The bill would allow school districts that are compliant with federal requirements to enjoy more flexibility with special education funding at the local level. The legislation would simplify the disciplinary framework for schools to administer the law and maintain the requirement that schools look at whether a child's behavior was the result of their disability when considering disciplinary action.

The House passed H.R. 1350 by a vote of 397-3. The legislation is now on its way to the President's desk for his signature. "This legislation shows that we can accomplish a great deal when we work together, and I commend the Congress for this bipartisan achievement. I look forward to signing it into law," President Bush said in a statement Saturday.