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Congress’ Promise: A Free, Appropriate, Public Education for All Students

Written by Rachel Norman, Policy Program Assistant | April 20, 2015

All parents want their child to have access to an education that works for them as guaranteed under law. We know that individuals with learning and attention issues can be highly successful when they receive targeted support and interventions. Ensuring that this promise of a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) is a reality for the 1-in-5 children with learning disabilities requires strategic investments.

The President’s Proposed Education Budget

In February, President Obama released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Although the federal investment in education is modest (only about 3% of the total budget), these funds are critical for our children – particularly those with learning and attention issues.

The President’s proposed budget would invest in students with disabilities through an increase in K-12 funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Unfortunately, this proposed increase still leaves the total congressional share far below the level that Congress promised in 1975, making it a challenge for schools to provide students with the services they need to reach their full potential.

Recognizing the importance of early education for all children, the President proposed an increase to both the general Preschool Development Grants and to preschoolers with special needs under Section 619 of IDEA. With more young learners than ever before in preschool classrooms, it is essential that early childhood educators are equipped with the knowledge and skills to identify and teach students with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, the IDEA funding level for preschool children was higher a decade ago than it is today. In other words, the President’s proposed increase would merely recoup what was previously cut under sequestration while attempting to keep up with increasing enrollment.

Congressional Outlook

Last Friday, the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations subcommittee regarding the President’s proposed budget. During this hearing, Senators Alexander (R-TN), Schatz (D-HI), Cassidy (R-LA), Lankford (R-OK), Capito (R-WV), Shaheen (D-NH) and others questioned Secretary Duncan on topics ranging from preschool to higher education, including students with unique gifts and talents as well as learning challenges. When Senator Cassidy (R-LA) asked about students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, Secretary Duncan agreed, “Is there more we can and should be doing? Absolutely.”

With all of the recent attention on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it is important to remember that the law is weakened if Congress does not also allocate funding. That is why The National Center for Learning Disabilities joined a coalition of over one hundred education-related organizations in encouraging Congress to make strategic investments in our children.

Next Steps

Representative Tom Price (R-GA), Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, also released his own budget proposal. This budget would decrease all Non-Defense Discretionary spending over time. Limiting the total amount that the federal government is able to invest in programs such as education would likely result in cuts to IDEA and early learning programs.

The Senate-House budget conference is meeting today, April 20th. This conference, led by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA), may take a couple of weeks to conclude its work. As Congress pushes ahead, it is essential that they hear directly from parents whose children will be affected by their decisions.

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