Congress Reauthorizes IDEA; NEA Wins Key Changes
NEA gave qualified support to the final reauthorization bill. Given its overall positive impact for students with disabilities and special education professionals, the bill's passage ensures no further delay in addressing NEA member needs in serving students with disabilities. Concerns, however, remain.
NEA was an insistent voice throughout the debate and negotiations. Early in the process, NEA successfully thwarted attempts to insert voucher programs in the bill. Through the consistent feedback from NEA members and state affiliate leaders, NEA focused several key changes on improved services and learning, rather than additional paperwork and process.
The resulting bill:
- Significantly increases support for professional development;
- Aims to reduce burdensome paperwork;
- Provides new flexibility in meeting the "highly qualified" teacher requirements legislated in the ESEA/"No Child Left Behind" Act;
- Simplifies and better balances discipline procedures while continuing to protect fundamental civil rights of students with disabilities;
- Enhances educators' ability to provide early intervention for struggling students; and
- Provides fair ways to reduce litigation between parents and schools.
Challenges remain, however. There is no extension on the timeline for meeting the federal "highly qualified" teacher provisions. NEA argued that special educators licensed according to state requirements should be deemed highly qualified according to the federal standard. While the reauthorization provides new flexibility not provided special educators under the original NCLB mandate, the "highly qualified" teacher provisions under the new law are problematic.
In addition, the legislation provides a seven-year timetable and a formula for achieving full funding of the federal share of special education, but without a guarantee to appropriate the funds. The funding issue remains on the table and is surely something the next Congress will need to address.
Materials explaining the new law will be available soon. The next step requires that the U.S. Department of Education develop regulations for implementing the new law. This rule-making process will be key to ensuring that supportive provisions written into the law are implemented effectively. NEA is already at work.