March 31, 2003
House Republicans Introduce Bill to Reauthorize IDEA—URGENT Action Needed
On March 19th, House Republicans introduced H.R.1350 -- the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003 – a federal bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA – the special education law). House Republicans drafted the bill to focus on reducing the IDEA paperwork burden for teachers, reducing the number of children wrongly identified for special education, and strengthening the accountability and results for students. NAMI is deeply concerned with many of the provisions in H.R. 1350. The bill threatens to erode critically important protections that currently exist in IDEA and are necessary to ensure that students with mental illnesses receive an appropriate education.
For the many NAMI families and advocates who are familiar with IDEA, many of whom have children receiving special education services, the reauthorization of IDEA is critically important. NAMI families know all too well the challenges and barriers that families with a child with a mental illness face in securing appropriate services and supports in our nation's schools.
NAMI has serious concerns about the adverse impact that many of the provisions in H.R. 1350 will have on students with mental illnesses and their families and opposes the following procedures and provisions:
- Timing – The House Education and Workforce Committee introduced this 282-page bill on March 19th and the Subcommittee on Education Reform has scheduled a mark-up of the bill for Wednesday, April 2nd. The Committee is not holding public hearings to provide families with an opportunity to provide input on this legislation that would dramatically change the special education law. Instead, the committee is moving this lengthy and complex bill quickly and without providing families and advocates with adequate time to weigh in on the potential adverse impact that this bill will have on their children.
- Funding – The bill fails to ensure that the federal government will provide full funding for IDEA through the reauthorization or the 40% of federal funds that the Administration and House Republicans promised last year and that Congress promised when the special education law was written.
- Permits funds to be diverted away from special education – the bill allows states and local school districts to divert funds away from direct special education services for students with disabilities for several other programs and purposes. They include a new "pre-referral" program, funds for supplemental services, funds for purchasing computers and funds that would be retained at the state level. Under this legislation, the fiscal crisis at the state and local levels of government will likely lead to funds being freely diverted away from special education services and students with disabilities – including those with mental illnesses.
- Suspending and expelling students with disabilities – the existing law contains important protections that prohibit schools from suspending or expelling students with disabilities without meeting well-defined procedural and substantive mandates. The existing IDEA discipline protections were added in 1997 because school districts were routinely inappropriately removing students with disabilities from the classroom, many times for manifesting behaviors consistent with their disability. This bill strips away those protections and allows school districts to unilaterally remove students with disabilities from school for any violation of a school’s "code of conduct" – which could include violating dress code, kicking lockers, or chewing gum. It is fundamentally unfair to roll back the IDEA discipline protections and return to the days when students with disabilities were excluded from our nation’s classrooms.
- IEPs every 3 years instead of every year – existing law requires that an annual individualized education program (IEP) be developed for students, who qualify for special education services, complete with benchmarks and short-term objectives. This bill eliminates the benchmarks and short-term IEP objectives and allows IEPs to be renewed every 3 years instead of every year. Parents and caregivers of students with mental illnesses require information about their child’s progress in meeting short-term objectives and benchmarks and should not be asked to wait three years to determine whether their child is receiving an appropriate education.
- One Year to File a Complaint – the existing IDEA law does not have a statute of limitations – a time frame within which families must file a due process claim or lose their right to challenge actions taken by the school district. This bill proposes restricting the statute of limitations to one year and would bar families from filing due process claims for concerns that transpired and were not addressed through due process during that one year time frame.
NAMI is working closely with other mental health and disability groups to oppose special education legislation that threatens to weaken the current IDEA protections. NAMI recently signed onto a letter to Representative Michael Castle (R-DE), Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Education Reform, in opposition to H.R. 1350, along with a coalition of 30 education and health advocacy organizations.
Also, in January 2003, NAMI, along with other children’s advocacy groups participating in the Children's Behavioral Alliance, released a paper titled In the Best Interests of All. This paper illustrates the unmet educational needs of youth with mental illnesses and mental health needs, and the potential benefit of strengthening IDEA implementation for schools, students and families. You can download a copy of In the Best Interests of All online.
NAMI will continue to closely monitor and provide regular updates on HR 1350 and other legislative proposals related to the reauthorization of IDEA.
ACTION REQUESTED: All NAMI members and advocates are strongly encouraged to call their Representatives to urge them to delay the "mark-up" of H.R. 1350 to allow families and advocates adequate time to review the provisions of the bill and to provide input to the committee. Also, you are urged to express concern about the provisions in H.R. 1350 that threaten to weaken the rights of students with mental illnesses to receive an appropriate education under the special education law.
All members of Congress can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard toll free at 1-800-839-5276 or at 202-224-3121 or online.
Members of the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Education Reform:
Mike Castle (R-DE), Chairman
Tom Osborne ((R-NE), Vice Chair
Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Ranking Minority Member
Jim Greenwood (R-PA)
Susan Davis (D-CA)
Fred Upton (R-MI)
Danny Davis (D-IL)
Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
Ed Case (D-HI)
Jim DeMint (R-SC)
Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Ron Kind (D-WI)
Todd Platts (R-PA)
Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
Ric Keller (R-FL)
Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Joe Wilson (R-SC)
Denise Majette (D-GA)
Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO)
NAMI calls on the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Education Reform to delay mark-up of H.R. 1350 to allow families to review the legislation and communicate their concerns to their congressional representatives. NAMI opposes many of the provisions in H.R. 1350 that threaten to interfere with the fundamental right of students with disabilities – especially those with mental illnesses – to receive a free and appropriate public education.