Friday, September 17, 2021

Md. senator tries (again) to fully fund IDEA


A sophomore at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has a rare sight disability, but hers is a strong voice in the school’s choir anyway, reports Avery Strand in The Knight Life.

Jessica DeRyke has a condition known as Peters Anomaly, which can make her vision cloudy and blurry, and she can’t read music as quickly as other students. It doesn’t stop her from making music, though.

She told the student newspaper that she developed the ability to learn her part by listening to others around her who are singing her part. Although that creates a slightly different choral experience for her, she’s a solid addition to the choir.

Yet not all students with physical, emotional, or cognitive disabilities can easily fold them into a positive student life, as Jessica can.

Forty-five years ago, in 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At the time, it was a huge step in the direction of helping schools pay for support services needed by students with all sorts of disabilities.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, has championed full IDEA funding since 2002, when he was elected to the House of Representatives.

Full funding would provide states with 40 percent of the costs of educating students with special needs. The federal government came close to that mark only once: in 2009, when funds from President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) supplemented IDEA funding.

But in the other 44 years, Congress has used its old trick of over-promising and under-delivering, providing funding that doesn’t come close to addressing the support needs our schools have. In 2017, for example, Maryland received $206 million in IDEA funding, Mr Van Hollen noted, but a fully funded IDEA would have sent the state $522 million.

Many laws aren’t fully funded, of course, but the pandemic has exposed massive shortfalls in the assistance our schools are able to provide for students with disabilities. It’s time to increase the funding for IDEA, as Congress intended.

“For too long Congress has not held up its end of the bargain in providing full funding to ensure a quality education for all students with disabilities,” Mr Van Hollen said this summer in support of another bill. “Covid-19 has only exacerbated school funding shortages across the country, and will make this gap even more severe.”

Maryland isn’t the only state falling short of expectations when it comes to students with a disability.

The US Education Department found that Texas hadn’t done enough to prove it overhauled a system that illegally left thousands of public school students who have disabilities without needed special education services, according to a letter federal officials sent the state last month, The Texas Tribune reported.

“I think it’s important that the federal government keeps its promises, and especially promises we’re making for the education of our country‚Äôs children,” Mr Van Hollen said about the bills he plans to introduce early next year. The bills, known as the IDEA Full Funding Act and the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers (PACT) Act, would increase federal funding for both IDEA and Title I.

“Right now we have so many schools that are just trying to make ends meet and do not have the resources to provide the kind of special education that our children deserve,” he said.

He may have an ally in President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised an increase in federal support for education when he takes office.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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