In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:
A letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate HELP committee from Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD)
The undersigned members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) write in response to the hearing of Betsy DeVos for the U.S. Secretary of Education. Given the lack of clarity that came from her nomination hearing, we request that she provide specific answers to numerous questions regarding her views on policies that impact students with disabilities before her nomination is voted on in committee.
CCD advocates for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration, and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. We see these principles as critical elements in a society that recognizes and respects the dignity and worth of all its members.
On January 9, 2017, in anticipation of the nomination hearing for Betsy DeVos, the CCD Education Task Force submitted a letter to members of the Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee urging members to ask questions that would help to clarify Mrs. DeVos’ vision for the Department’s role in supporting students with disabilities and promoting their access and inclusion in the education system. Unfortunately, at the hearing, Mrs. DeVos’ answers to many questions did not provide the needed clarity, and in fact, raised serious concerns from the undersigned organizations regarding her vision and commitment to upholding and implementing, with fidelity, the laws under which students with disabilities are educated including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Our concerns arise from, but are not limited to, answers such as the following:
- When asked on whether all schools that receive federal funding should meet equal accountability standards, Mrs. DeVos answered, “well no”.
- When questioned about IDEA full funding, Mrs. DeVos responded, “and maybe the money should follow the individual student instead of going to the states”.
- When asked whether students would be able to keep their IDEA rights under a private school voucher system, Mrs. DeVos refused to answer the question.
- When asked whether all schools that receive taxpayer funding should meet the requirements of IDEA, Mrs. DeVos responded, “I think that is a matter best left up to the states.”
- When asked whether all schools should be required to report the same information on instances of discipline, harassment or bullying Mrs. DeVos responded, “I think that federal funding certainly comes with strings attached” rather than committing to this policy position.
The undersigned organizations respectfully request that Mrs. DeVos provide answers to
the questions listed below prior to a vote on her nomination in committee. We believe
that answers to these questions are critical to assessing Mrs. DeVos’ commitment to
educating all students, including the 6.5 million students served under IDEA.
- Do you support that it is the role of the U.S. Department of Education to enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
- Should states and schools that receive federal funds though IDEA be required to meet all of the requirements laid out in the federal statute?
- Should the federal government incentivize states to provide students with disabilities and their families’ private school vouchers without the protections of the IDEA?
- Should IDEA funds follow the student?
- Should all schools that receive tax payer funding be held accountable as required in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its implementing regulations?
- Should all schools that receive federal funds be held accountable for students with disabilities as required by ESSA and its implementing regulations?
- Do you support that students with disabilities who attend private schools should retain due process rights as defined by IDEA?
- Are the McKay Scholarships, which require the signing away of IDEA rights, a model with which you agree?
- How do you expect that parents will make up the difference between the money that a private school voucher provides and the cost of educating a student with complex disabilities in a private school setting? Are you aware of the average cost for educating a student with a significant disability?
- Should students with disabilities have the option to attend general education schools and receive necessary special education services? If so, then how would you ensure that funding is available for this arrangement in a private school voucher system?
- Do you support the presumption under IDEA that students with disabilities should be educated in general education classes. If yes, how would you ensure the LRE provisions of IDEA are properly implemented in a private school voucher system, charter schools and traditional public schools?
A committee vote on Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education should be delayed until Mrs. DeVos has fully answered the above questions, and allows Committee members the opportunity to fully understand how she plans to ensure that students with disabilities receive a quality education with their peers as required by federal statute. Thank you for considering our views. If you have any questions, please contact Kim Musheno, CCD Chair, at 301-588-8252/222 or firstname.lastname@example.org