Being Aware of Laws and Regulations Affecting Paraeducators
The National Education Association strongly represented its members’ interests as the U.S. Congress was considering amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004.
The Association is assisting members through bargaining, providing information and workshops, and working with school and state officials to make sure implementation of NCLB and IDEA 2004 is fair and equitable .
In recent years, two federal laws—IDEA 2004 and NCLB—have acknowledged the role of some paraeducators. In both laws, the term paraprofessional is used instead of paraeducator. Paraeducators who are referenced in IDEA 2004 and NCLB need to be aware of the requirements and opportunities pertaining to them .
Many state and local Associations are working to meet the requirements for paraeducators in IDEA 2004 and NCLB.
Paraeducators are encouraged to contact NEA, their state Association/ union, or their UniServ director for specific information. Following is a brief overview of how the two laws affect certain paraeducators.
Learning about IDEA 2004 Requirements
IDEA 2004 guarantees a free, appropriate public education for all students, regardless of the nature or severity of their disability. IDEA 2004—which uses the term paraprofessionals to refer to paraeducators—acknowledges the important role that paraeducators play in helping students with disabilities maximize their achievement (see below, Why IDEA 2004 is Important to Paraeducators).
First in the 1997 amendments to IDEA and now in the 2004 reauthorization, paraeducators who are appropriately trained and supervised (in accordance with state law, regulation, or written policy) are recognized as personnel who may assist in the provision of special education and related services to students with disabilities [20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(14)]. IDEA 2004 does not define the term paraprofessional nor does it define what paraprofessionals do.
IDEA 2004 makes clear that states must have written policies, regulations, or laws regarding the certification of paraeducators who provide services to students with disabilities. States must establish qualifications to ensure that paraeducators are appropriately prepared and trained to serve children with disabilities.
IDEA 2004 allows school districts— which the law refers to as local education agencies ( LEAs)—to use paraeducators to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities, provided the paraeducators are appropriately trained and supervised. IDEA 2004 stops short of defining paraeducator training and supervision, leaving that determination to the respective states
- It continues to recognize the role of paraeducators in providing services to students with disabilities. Prior to the 1997 amendments, there was no recognition of that role in federal legislation.
- It highlights the necessity for standards in the training and supervision of paraeducators.
- It supports the involvement of paraeducators as part of the team that provides educational services to children with disabilities.
- It encourages professional development opportunities for paraeducators.
States, however, must adopt a policy that requires school districts to take measurable steps to train qualified personnel. Such training must comply with personnel standards for paraeducators in accordance with state law, regulations, or written policy.
IDEA 2004 authorizes State Personnel Improvement Grants [20 U.S.C. §1415]—a new program that provides federal funds through a competitive grants program to states. Funds may be used to improve paraeducator knowledge of effective educational practices. These grants require states to include a plan that identifies and addresses state and local needs for preparation and professional development of personnel—including paraeducators—who serve students with disabilities.
Additional funding for paraeducator training may be available in school districts that use IDEA 2004 funds to provide early intervening services for students not identified as needing special education or related services but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment. Training activities include professional development.
Becoming Aware of NCLB Requirements
NEA has consistently sought to guarantee every child an equal opportunity to succeed in our nation’s public schools. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), enacted in 1965 to provide guidance and funds to K–12 schools, was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). At the heart of NCLB is the goal of ensuring that students, especially those who need the most help, are taught and served by highly qualified teachers and paraeducators. In general, paraeducators should be familiar with:
- Who is covered under the definition of paraprofessional
- General NCLB requirements for paraprofessionals
- Funding support for paraprofessionals under NCLB
- Local’s/district’s policies and plans
All paraeducators who work in programs funded by Title I of NCLB are affected. The requirements do not apply to paraeducators in local education agencies or schools that do not receive Title I funds. Paraprofessionals are generally those education support professionals who work with students in an instructional role. For the purposes of Title I, a paraprofessional is an employee who provides instructional support in a program supported with Title I, Part A funds. According to NCLB [Title I, section 1119(g )(2)], this definition applies to paraeducators who:
- Provide one-to-one tutoring if such tutoring is scheduled at a time when a student would not otherwise receive instruction from a teacher;
- Assist with classroom management, such as organizing instructional and other materials;
- Provide instructional assistance in a computer laboratory;
- Provide support in a library or media center;
- Act as a translator; [ Note: There are special requirements for paraprofessionals who are proficient in English and a language other than English and who act as translators to enhance the participation of limited English proficient children under Title I, Part A.]
- Conduct parental involvement activities; [ Note: There are special requirements for these paraprofessionals.]
- Provide instructional support services under the direct supervision of a teacher who meets the highly qualified requirements of NCLB, working in close and frequent proximity to the teacher.
Individuals who work in food services, cafeteria or playground supervision, personal care services, noninstructional computer assistance, and noninstructional positions are not considered paraprofessionals under Title I. Title I paraprofessionals may perform certain functions outside those listed above for the benefit of all students, such as lunchroom, playground, or study hall monitoring. However, the portion of the time they spend on these general duties may not exceed that of a non-Title I paraprofessional at the same school.
General NCLB Requirements for Paraprofessionals
NCLB became effective on January 8, 2002. Paraprofessionals hired after that date (who are working in a Title I funded program) must meet these requirements immediately.
Paraprofessionals hired before that date must prove that they are highly qualified by the end of the 2005–2006 school year. [ Note: Originally, the deadline for paraprofessionals to meet this requirement was January 2006. NEA was successful in getting the deadline extended, which was a major accomplishment.] New requirements concerning the duties of paraeducators went into effect when the act became law.
All Title I paraprofessionals—including those paraprofessionals who serve as translators or who conduct parental involvement activities—must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Those paraprofessionals whose duties include instructional support and who were hired after January 8, 2002, must prove that they are highly qualified by meeting one of the following requirements [Title I, section 1119(c) and (d)]:
- Completed at least two years of post-secondary study at an institution of higher education;
- Obtained an associate’s (or higher) degree;
- Met a rigorous standard of quality and demonstrated through a state or local academic assessment, knowledge of and the ability to assist in teaching reading, writing, and mathematics (or, as appropriate, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness).
The section below, NCLB and the Paraeducator: Steps to Take Now, presents suggestions that will help paraeducators prepare to meet the NCLB requirements. In addition, the publication ESEA: Title I Paraprofessional Non-Regulatory Guidance describes the specifics of these requirements in greater detail.
The National Education Association and state Associations encourage you to:
- Check with your school district to see if you work in a program funded by Title I. If the school has a schoolwide Title I program and you work in an instructional capacity, you are probably included under NCLB. If the school receives targeted assistance, you are included only if your position is funded by Title I.
- Meet the NCLB qualification requirements even if you do not currently work in a Title I program. This will greatly increase flexibility and job security.
- Determine whether you were officially hired before or after January 8, 2002.
- Collect documentation relating to your education, including high school diploma or GED certificate and transcripts for college courses.
- Document conference and workshop attendance as this may help you attain highly qualified status. S
- Submit documentation to the school district. [Note: Make sure to keep copies.]
- If you do not currently meet the requirements to be highly qualified, find out what assessment the state or school district has decided to use.
- If you decide and are allowed to meet requirements by taking additional college courses, contact local colleges to find out about programs that may help you become highly qualified.
- Ask your local Association/union what financial assistance the school district provides to employees pursuing additional education.
- Contact your local Association/union to find out how you can help elect lawmakers who support positive changes in NCLB.
Funding Support for Paraprofessionals
Local school districts may use federal funds to help paraprofessionals meet the new requirements of the federal law. For example, local education agencies ( LEAs) must allocate funds for professional development activities to ensure that paraprofessionals meet the qualification requirements. LEAs also may use their general Title I funds to support ongoing training and professional development to assist paraprofessionals.
In addition, LEAs may use Title II, Part A (Improving Teacher Quality State Grants) funds to provide training for paraprofessionals in certain cases. These monies are intended to provide professional development activities that improve the knowledge of teachers and principals relating to academic subjects taught and/or effective instructional strategies, methods, and skills. Paraprofessionals may be included in such activities, as appropriate.
ESEA: Title I Paraprofessional Non-Regulatory Guidance— Funding Issues describes in greater detail the specifics of these requirements.