National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Rejects Senate Proposal and Calls on Congress to Invest Significantly in Public Schools

Washington DC — September 9, 2020 — The latest proposal by Senate Republicans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is an insult to students, families, and educators and must be rejected. While relief is needed, including in many areas outside of education, this proposal will cause lasting damage to our public institutions for years to come. Rather than dedicating resources to help public schools serve all learners, the Senate bill—the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act— aims to funnel resources into private school voucher programs and jeopardizes the health and safety of students and educators by making school funding conditional on physical reopening. Once again, the Senate Republican proposal is insufficient to address the needs of students, educators, and families during the pandemic.

Despite clear calls from dozens of education and civil rights organizations for significant investment in K-12 public schools, this bill would provide only $70B in grants to states. With two-thirds of those funds reserved only for schools that are physically reopening, the vast majority of school districts across the country will not receive adequate funding to cover the costs associated with this unprecedented school year. Further, 10% of the money received by districts would be directed to private schools, and the bill establishes a new private school voucher program and a federal tax credit program, diverting desperately needed resources from public schools. 

As they begin a school year unlike any other, students—particularly students with disabilities and those who have been systemically marginalized—deserve high-quality and responsive instruction that meets their social, emotional, and academic needs, wherever they are learning. Educators need more resources and training to make virtual and hybrid learning work for all students. And our public schools need significantly greater funding to offset the revenue shortfalls they are facing. Congress must take bold action to meet this moment before it is too late for our students with the greatest needs. 

Read the full statement here.

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ABOUT NCLD

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy
mwhittaker@ncld.org 

NCLD Releases “Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools”

The onset of COVID-19 has changed public education in many ways and the 2020–2021 school year will pose many new challenges. Students have lost valuable instructional time. Families have been left out of important conversations and decisions. And educators have been operating without much needed guidance, support, and resources. In light of these challenges, the commitment to meeting the needs of every learner and designing a learning environment that is inclusive and responsive to all has never been more important.

NCLD’s newly-released Planning for Equity and Inclusion: A Guide to Reopening Schools shares specific actions  school and district leaders can take to prioritize equity and inclusion as they rethink their approach to public education in the COVID-19 world. The principles are focused around meeting the needs of students with disabilities with the understanding that there may be additional considerations for students with disabilities who also come from low-income families or who are students of color or English learners. The intersectionality of these identities must be recognized and the needs of the whole child must be met by their schools.

Principle #1: Health and Safety

The first priority of states and districts must be ensuring the health and safety of students, educators, and school staff. Some students with disabilities may require one-to-one support or may be medically fragile or have other health conditions that place them at higher risk of contracting and spreading the COVID-19 virus. 

  • States and districts should develop plans ensuring that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment and beside their peers without disabilities to the greatest extent possible. 
  • States and districts should follow all Centers for Disease Control recommendations for reopening schools in a way that keeps students, educators, and staff safe and healthy. 
  • States and districts should develop plans that provide instruction to students five days per week—whether virtual or in-person—and offer meaningful opportunities for students’ social and emotional needs to be met.
  • States and districts can convene workgroups to determine how best to manage student and family health data in a way that protects privacy and ensures the health and physical safety of the school community. 

Principle #2: Informed and Responsive Planning

States and districts must collaborate with all relevant stakeholders, including families of students with disabilities, to develop plans that fully meet the needs of students with disabilities during the 2020–2021 school year. 

  • States and districts should first learn from the 2019–2020 school year and take steps to determine how well schools met the needs of students and families, engaging with stakeholders through focus groups, surveys, and listening sessions. Districts and states can identify successful strategies and provide technical assistance to schools to expand those best practices and improve services and instruction for all students going forward. 
  • States and districts can inform their 2020–2021 planning by determining what new challenges students and families are facing, and then working with them to determine their needs for the new school year and what supports and strategies schools can implement. 
  • State and district plans should explicitly address how the unique needs of students with disabilities will be met. This should include specific strategies to provide the needed instruction and services—whether academic, behavior, or social and emotional—to help students with disabilities make up for lost instruction and continue to make progress in grade-level, developmentally appropriate, standards-based curriculum. 

Principle #3: Equity in Funding 

States and districts should target funds to schools and communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including students with disabilities. 

  • States and districts must continue to abide by supplement, not supplant (add to, not replace) and maintenance-of-effort (not reduce spending from one year to the next) provisions under federal laws—including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These provisions protect students with disabilities from receiving a substandard education. 
  • States and districts can prioritize closing the digital divide and ensure that students not only have access to internet connectivity and technology but that students with disabilities have access to appropriate assistive technologies and accommodations to benefit from distance learning opportunities. 
  • States and districts should not allocate funding to services or programs (e.g., voucher, fee-for-service, or for-profit programs) that in any way discriminate against students, including those with disabilities, or that take public funds from public schools. 

Principle #4: Reimagine Learning

States and districts must prioritize high-quality instruction and educational experiences, whether in person or through blended learning, and provide opportunities not just to remediate student learning but to accelerate it. 

  • States and districts should invest funds in a way that closes the digital divide and that aims to provide students equitable access to online instruction through high-speed internet access and appropriate assistive technologies. 
  • Districts should revisit curriculum decisions and ensure that educators are using evidence-based instructional strategies. Where districts are offering new pathways to learning (such as project-based learning or competency-based learning), they must provide the necessary supports, infrastructure, and accountability systems to meet the needs of students with disabilities and keep them on track.

Principle #5: Student and Educator Supports

States and school districts must ensure that students’ academic, social, and emotional needs are addressed effectively upon their return to school. This means that educators and other school professionals must have the resources to effectively serve these students in a comprehensive way, in a working environment that is safe and that addresses educators’ own mental health, physical health, and emotional well-being.

  • Districts should offer training to educators and develop plans that encourage increased communication and collaboration with families in order to provide students with disabilities maximum access to the instruction and services outlined in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). 
  • States and districts should invest funding in and develop plans to provide support to students and staff who are experiencing trauma, homelessness, or any other life circumstance that results in increased mental, physical, social, or emotional health needs. 
  • Districts should develop a plan for meeting their obligation to evaluate students suspected of having a disability under IDEA upon their re-entry to school. Special care and attention should be given to determining whether a student’s difficulties are due to a disability, rather than a consequence of lost instruction or trauma experienced during school closures. Schools should be ready to provide appropriate supports or services in either case.
  • States and districts can invest in more robust resources, professional development, and support for educators who are struggling to provide evidence-based instruction and support students with disabilities, particularly in a virtual learning environment, and who may be navigating professional and personal COVID-related obstacles.

Principle #6: Promotion, Transition, and Graduation

States and districts must help students with and without identified disabilities stay on track for promotion and graduation during the COVID-19 crisis. 

  • Districts should develop policies that lead to equitable pathways for grade promotion for students with disabilities.
  • Districts should develop policies and plans to ensure that, even in light of COVID-19 restrictions on in-person activities, students with disabilities secure appropriate documentation needed to receive accommodations in the workplace or in postsecondary education settings after high school, including a re-evaluation where necessary. 
  • Districts should conduct transition planning and provide postsecondary education guidance in ways that are flexible and responsive to student needs during COVID-19. This might include virtual educational and career counseling activities and virtual work-based planning opportunities.

New Resource: Inclusive Technology During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted numerous underlying inequities in education and created new challenges for meeting students’ diverse needs. Remote learning is likely to continue throughout the pandemic, making inclusive education technology (ed tech) critical to ensuring equity. A new guide from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and 10 partner organizations, “Inclusive Technology During the COVID-19 Crisis,” can help districts use this summer to make ed tech decisions that will benefit students with disabilities.

Last year, NCLD partnered with ten organizations to create a set of resources on inclusive ed tech. Our original framework remains useful, but we recognize that decisions about ed tech have changed drastically in the past few months. We have updated our district report with new guidance to meet the demands of the current moment. Our new guide names key stakeholders who should be involved in decision-making and provides guiding questions for the five phases of ed tech planning: vision, design, procurement, use, and continuous improvement.

The new guiding questions come directly from our partnership with organizations representing a range of education stakeholders. Partners include research organizations such as AIR and the Friday Institute; local decision maker organizations like ASBO International and CoSN; state policy maker organizations like NASDSE and SETDA; and national policy and advocacy thought-leader organizations like Learning Accelerator, Digital Promise, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

With our new collective dependence on remote learning, the digital divide has been a focus of many education equity discussions. Access to the internet and digital technology is crucial, but these discussions often leave out concerns about accessibility – whether ed tech provides students with disabilities with equal access to instructional content. This summer is a critical opportunity for districts to reassess their approaches to technology and consider how ed tech products can be used to improve the educational opportunities of students with disabilities.

Districts had to pivot quickly to fully-remote learning in the spring, creating a sudden reliance on ed tech. Some districts had already invested in ed tech products and created district-wide plans for their use, while many others had minimal experience with coordinated, district-wide tech implementation. The unique needs of students with disabilities were not always prioritized in the scramble to set up remote learning, putting these students at risk of losing access to the educational opportunities provided to their peers without disabilities. Districts are now charged with making remote learning more equitable and inclusive for the next school year.

Our collective responsibility to continue educating students throughout the pandemic must center around equity and students with disabilities. To ensure that all students are able to learn, districts must use this summer to create ed tech plans that are inclusive and accessible. We know that technology will be critical to education in our new reality, and we encourage educators to see this as an opportunity to be strategic and innovative.

May 2020 Policy News Round-Up

This May, the House of Representatives passed another bill in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Department of Education issued guidance to fund private schools with public funds, and the CDC released recommendations on school reopenings. See how NCLD worked on behalf of people with disabilities this month. 


U.S. House of Representatives Passes HEROES Act

Led by House Democrats, members of the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Importantly, the bill protects the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and does not allow for states and districts to waive any requirements or civil rights protections under the law. This is in line with the recommendation Secretary DeVos made late last month that IDEA should remain intact during this crisis. The bill also allocates $58 billion to support public schools. You can read the full text of the bill here

However, while the House of Representatives has moved quickly to provide relief to public schools and universities, the Senate is reluctant to move forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly stated that the federal government should see how the previous stimulus bill, the CARES Act, is working before passing another one. NCLD will continue to push Congress to not waive the rights of students with disabilities during this time and to move quickly to provide additional funding for education. 

Secretary DeVos Presses States to Provide More Funds to Private Schools

After Congress passed the CARES Act which provided billions of dollars to assist public schools in handling the COVID-19 crisis, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released guidance suggesting state leaders should direct those public funds to private schools. NCLD and many education and disability organizations have opposed this guidance because federal tax dollars should not be used to support private schools that often discriminate against students with disabilities and LGBTQ students. Some members of Congress have even publicly stated that those funds were not meant to go to private schools in this way. NCLD will continue to oppose all proposals that direct money away from public schools that are legally required to serve all students.

CDC Provides Recommendations for Schools to Reopen

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has provided recommendations to state and local leaders on how to safely reopen public schools. The recommendations include suggestions on how to promote behaviors that will reduce the spread of the virus, how to maintain healthy environments and operations, and what to do if someone contracts the virus. You can read all of the CDC’s recommendations here. Discussions about the physical safety of students and teachers are just one of many ongoing conversations about how to reopen schools in the coming months. 

NCLD Joins With Partners to Ensure Equity and Transparency

Just as we’ve done for 40 years, NCLD continues to push our nation’s leaders to protect and support students with disabilities. Over the last two months, NCLD and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities led efforts to oppose waiver and sent a letter to Congress with more than 350 signatures.  This month, we joined education and civil rights organizations and issued a joint statement concerning equitable education during the COVID-19 pandemic school closures and beyond. We also provided a list of potential transparency requirements for states and districts to adhere to when using CARES Act funds with nine other partners. June will be another critical month in our advocacy efforts as policymakers attempt to tackle the ongoing pandemic. 

Policy & Practice Series: How to Serve Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

During this unprecedented situation, two things are clear: students with disabilities still have their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), and educators and families must work  together to ensure students with disabilities keep learning. It isn’t easy, and there is still much to learn. But we must work together to do as much as we can for all students.

NCLD has compiled common questions, emerging best practices, and examples of how educators, schools, districts, and states can and should move forward during this challenging time without stepping back from IDEA or civil rights. 

These documents are the first in a series that will highlight good ideas, creative thinking, and concrete examples of how families, schools, and communities are working and continue to serve students with disabilities. To get through this, we’ll have to be creative and innovative. We’ll need to work together and help each other.  Let’s start here, and now.

New ED Fact Sheet: Students with Disabilities & COVID-19

On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) responded to numerous questions and concerns from educators and families about whether and how to serve students with disabilities during the COVID-19 outbreak by releasing a supplemental factsheet: Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities

As districts and schools have been grappling with how to maintain the health and safety of students and also meet their civil rights obligations under law, it became apparent that many school districts were “reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education.”  

ED made clear: compliance with special education and civil rights laws “should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction.”

ED reiterated that even during these uncertain times, school districts “must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students.” However, the guidance indicated that “these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible.”

The guidance suggests that ED understands it may not be feasible for schools to provide all of the same services in the same ways they used to, but urged collaboration in how educators and parents work together and innovation in how services are delivered. ED confirmed that existing special education law provides ample room for flexibility in how schools can meet the needs of students in this precarious time. 

While ED used this guidance to describe the flexibility that exists under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congress is looking to grant the Secretary of Education authority to waive civil rights protections. In a statement, NCLD President & CEO, Lindsay Jones, said that “with the release of the most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), it became abundantly clear that such waivers are not needed,” stated Jones. “In fact, the guidance offered many ways that ED will offer flexibility to states and districts within the bounds of IDEA. We don’t need waivers. Instead, what we need now is investment in our schools.” 

NCLD will continue to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure students with disabilities’ rights are protected and that they have an equitable and meaningful opportunity to learn during school closures. We will be providing resources for parents and educators in the coming weeks and will be sharing more examples of how schools can meet their obligations in new ways. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for the latest news and resources to support students with disabilities.

Other resources from ED related to the COVID-19 crisis include:

National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Calls on Congress to Provide Robust Investments in Response to COVID-19: Recent Proposals Fall Far Short for Disability & School Communities

WASHINGTON – March 23, 2020 – Our nation is facing an unprecedented public health crisis that calls for a swift and strong federal response — one that protects the most vulnerable among us. The most recent proposal put forth by Senate Republicans fell far short of providing what our students, their families, communities, and educators need and deserve. Now, Congress cannot wait any longer to work together and put forward a bipartisan bill that addresses the needs of its most vulnerable communities.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19, parents are navigating their new normal with children at home, jobs to keep, and serious concerns about nutrition and medical care,” said Lindsay Jones, president and CEO, NCLD. “At the same time, educators are wondering how to connect with and reach all of their students from a distance. Congress has failed to offer adequate solutions to these challenges and must act now.”

Perhaps most importantly for students with disabilities, the most recent Senate bill aimed to increase the Secretary of Education’s waiver authority, weakening civil rights protections for students under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act, and more. However, “with the release of the most recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), it is abundantly clear that such waivers are not needed,” stated Jones. “In fact, the guidance offered many ways that ED will offer flexibility to states and districts within the bounds of IDEA. We don’t need waivers. Instead, what we need now is investment in our schools.” 

Every student deserves access to educational opportunities — even if that means virtual education during this pandemic. And if educators are expected to innovate and act nimbly during these unprecedented times, Congress must provide the resources schools and districts so desperately need to effectively design those learning opportunities and educate all students. “It’s clear that many schools and districts are finding innovative ways to serve students,” says Jones. “We must lift those examples up, learn from each other, and ensure that all schools, educators and families  have the resources they need to succeed.” 

Congress must lead. We cannot afford to wait. NCLD and its community of parents, educators, and advocates calls on Congress to invest substantial resources into schools and communities as they band together to navigate this new reality as safely as possible.

Read the full statement here.

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For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy
mwhittaker@ncld.org 

COVID-19: A Look at the CARES Act Education Proposal

After passing a bill earlier this week and taking preliminary steps to help our nation amidst the coronavirus crisis, Congress is hard at work on a third package. This time, it includes changes to federal education laws that have NCLD and our fellow advocates very concerned. And it falls far short of the provisions the disability community needs and deserves during this pandemic.

The bill released by Senator McConnell on Thursday evening — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — drastically expands the Secretary of Education’s authority to allow states to ignore civil rights provided under federal education laws, including

  • the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA);
  • the Higher Education Act; and 
  • the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 

Though the CARES Act does not include a waiver of requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), it does direct the Secretary to provide Congress (within 30 days) with a list of the waivers that will be needed for states to implement IDEA. These waivers would free local educational agencies (LEAs) from their legal obligations, such as completing evaluations for students with disabilities, designing and implementing individualized education plans (IEPs), and providing equal educational access to students with disabilities. While it falls short of issuing these blanket waivers right now, in 30 days it will effectively open the door to dangerous and damaging changes to the most important federal protections for students with disabilities.

We recognize that schools have been thrust into a new reality and are being forced to operate in circumstances that present a number of challenges. And yet we cannot give up on students with disabilities and they cannot be left behind. In this unprecedented time, many schools are finding innovative ways to deliver instruction to all students and connect with families. While all schools may not be able to provide the same quality of instruction and intervention virtually, we must encourage and enable them to keep striving.  We must not eliminate a school’s legal obligations and toss students with disabilities to the side!

In addition, we must dramatically boost funding for districts and schools to provide quality virtual learning and the special education services that students are entitled to. Programs like IDEA, Title I of ESSA, and more will need increases through an emergency appropriations bill  to meet the demand of the present situation. Senator McConnell’s bill does nothing to address the funding crisis states are facing.

This package will likely be voted on and passed within the next several days, at which time the Senate will recess for several weeks. NCLD and our civil rights partners have already issued a statement opposing any IDEA waivers and urging only targeted, time-limited waivers under ESSA.  We’ll continue to push for funding and find ways to make sure education is a top priority in Congress’s response to COVID-19.

We are doing all we can, and we need your help! You can lend your voice to this fight now by sending an email to your Senator and urging them to vote no on Senator McConnell’s CARES Act.

Federal Response to COVID-19: What it means for students and families

Our nation is currently grappling with how to contain and respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) and we are faced with a new reality when it comes to healthcare, education, transportation, and daily living. As we navigate this worldwide pandemic, most of us — including families of students with disabilities — have many questions and concerns. 

To keep you as up to date as possible, NCLD is sharing some of the latest developments from Congress and federal agencies that might help your family during this time.

Guidance to Schools and Districts

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a guidance document to support students, families and schools in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, ED reiterated the rights of students with disabilities when schools are closed for long periods of time. For a more thorough discussion of the guidance, see this legal Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on school closings and special education by NCLD’s CEO Lindsay Jones in conjunction with Understood.org.

ED also released a document explaining how COVID-19 might affect statewide assessments and indicated that it would continue to work with states or districts who need flexibility within their accountability systems. 

Other agencies are also providing information to help schools and districts navigate this time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shared guidance to schools, offering flexibility in how they provide school lunches to their students in need. The Centers for Disease Control also shared guidance on school closures and factors for consideration during this period of time. 

Assistance for Families

Today, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — a bill to support families and communities impacted by COVID-19. The bill does four main things to combat this virus and support families.

  1. Guarantee sick leave for workers and their families affected by the coronavirus. The bill requires that companies with 500 or fewer employees offer up to 14 days of paid leave for employees infected with the virus. 
  2. Increase food aid for families and seniors in need. This bill provides additional funding for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and suspends the work and work training requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during this crisis. The bill also allows schools to continue to provide meals to students who are eligible for free and reduced priced lunches.  
  3. Free testing for those suspected of being infected. The bill requires – regardless of whether a person has health insurance or not –  a guarantee of free testing for people suspected of being infected.
  4. Expanded unemployment insurance: The bill would direct $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs and waive requirements to those either diagnosed with Covid-19, or those who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.

Many advocates argue that this bill does not go far enough. While the increases to nutrition assistance, testing services, and unemployment insurance are important, more must be done to protect all workers and families — particularly those with disabilities — so they have the ability to stay home when needed in furtherance of public health. 

We expect another legislative proposal to be introduced in the coming days and passed next week which would include an economic stimulus package as well as provisions to increase funding for education programs and services to students and families during this time. We will continue to fight for what families and students need during this time and share resources that may be helpful to you during the coming weeks.

Federal Funding for LD Research and Why It Matters

You may know that two decades ago, a seminal report — the National Reading Panel report — was produced. It led to improved reading instruction and intervention for struggling readers and it remains, to this day, the cornerstone of reading and learning disability research.

What you may not know, however, is that the report was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH has a division within its National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)  dedicated to learning disabilities research. NICHD funds 54 national research centers across the country on a variety of topics related to child health and development. Only three of those are related to learning disabilities — the most prevalent disability in public schools and one that impacts more than 2 million students. 

What LD research does NIH fund?

NIH provides the only source of federal funding to allow researchers who explore child development and learning disabilities to conduct randomized control trials and explore the relationships between different variables at work. The three Learning Disabilities Research Centers (LDRCs) funded today have received approximately $8 million per year in five-year grant cycles. Specifically, the LDRCs are tasked with developing new knowledge about the causes and developmental course of learning disabilities impacting reading and writing. NIH also funds Learning Disability Innovation Hubs, which are smaller projects that address understudied topics affecting learning disabilities, including the juvenile offender population, math comorbidity, reading development, and more.

Are there other federal funding sources for LD research?

The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) also funds research relating to learning disabilities. This research primarily focuses on building knowledge of disabilities in order to improve outcomes for students; improving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and evaluating the effectiveness of IDEA. While equally important, this research is fundamentally different from that of NIH.

Why does LD research matter?

Funding for the NIH research centers has declined over the years. In the past, NIH funded four LDRCs but now only funds three. We must fight for funding to continue. With increasing pressure to study the many complex challenges facing our nation’s students, families, and schools, we must ensure that the LD voice is heard and investments for LD research increase.

In the United States, 1 in 5 children have learning or attention issues (including learning disabilities), which are brain-based issues that may cause trouble in reading, writing, math, organization, concentration, listening comprehension, or a combination of these. These children are in every classroom across the country and spend most of their time in general education settings. Many also receive specialized instruction and support through IDEA. Research confirms that when provided the right services and supports, children with learning and attention issues can and do thrive in school and in life. 

However, our nation’s schools continue to struggle to serve these students well. There has been a continued decline in achievement for students with disabilities and a need for continued research and improved interventions. As brain science advances and innovation in education continues, additional and ongoing research is needed to ensure that we are providing a high-quality, equitable education.

How to support LD research

Continued, robust funding is needed for both the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) within the NIH and for the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). These unique funding streams have given rise to influential and promising research that has the potential to significantly and positively impact how students with learning disabilities are educated in this country and the opportunities available to them as a result.

This year, as Congress works to reach an agreement on spending for FY 2021, we must advocate for funding for the IES to reach $670 million and funding for NCSER to reach $70 million. Funding for NCSER was significantly reduced in recent years and must be restored to its FY 2010 funding level of $70 million. NCSER supports high-quality and rigorous research on special education and related services and the full range of issues facing children with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, school personnel, and more. Its findings help inform interventions, teaching strategies, and other critical factors in educating children with disabilities. Additional funding could support necessary research, such as improving assessments for students with disabilities.

Please send a letter to your member of Congress now, urging them to support LD research by signing on to Congresswoman Julia Brownley’s (D-CA-26) Dear Colleague letter for FY 2021. Your voice can make a difference!

President Trump’s Proposed Federal FY 2021 Budget Fails Students, Families, and Educators

This week, President Trump announced his proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. The proposal would cut $6 billion from education funding, most of which comes from programs designed to close achievement and opportunity gaps and support diverse learners.

Specifically, the legislation would consolidate 29 competitive grant programs under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into a single block grant called “the Elementary and Secondary Education for the Disadvantaged Block Grant” (ESED Block Grant) and then cut funding for it. The administration’s justification for the block grant is that it allows states to decide how best to use funds to meet the needs of their students. However, NCLD and other advocates have serious concerns that this approach will only result in less accountability and will not be able to guarantee that the funds will be spent as Congress intended. 

In reality, the proposed consolidation—combined with the reduction in overall funding for other ESEA formula grant programs—will force states, districts, and schools to make difficult decisions to cut programs that are critical to the education of our nation’s students. Just to name a few, the president’s budget plans to eliminate funding for programs that: 

  • Promote literacy development and innovative approaches to literacy;
  • Support effective instruction;
  • Support education for homeless children and youth;
  • Foster safe and healthy learning environments;
  • Provide students with a well-rounded education; 
  • Increase the effective use of technology; and
  • Support family engagement in schools.  

In addition, the president also proposes dedicating $5 billion in tax credits to fund a new private school voucher scheme. The administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal would provide up to $5 billion annually in state-designed “scholarship programs” that could support a range of educational activities such as tuition for private school. NCLD is opposed to voucher programs because, after examining more than 60 programs across the country — including school vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax incentive programs — we identified three major hurdles facing families of students with disabilities: the potential loss of federal civil rights protections; lack of access to information; and added costs.

In a statement, Lindsay Jones, president and CEO of NCLD, stated that “if enacted, this budget would have a devastating effect on our students with disabilities and our students living in poverty, their families, and the education professionals who work with them every day.” 

“This budget,” said Jones, “is yet another attempt to deny equal opportunity to every child. It is a missed opportunity to close the equity and achievement gaps plaguing our country.” 

Ultimately, decisions on how and what to fund through the federal government are made by Congress. For the last three years, Congress has decidedly rejected the president’s proposed budgets and continued to invest in public education at sustained levels. We urge them to do the same this year. On behalf of students, educators, and families, NCLD and our partners will continue to work with Congress to pass a thoughtful budget that ensures all students have the services and supports they need to succeed. 

NCLD Statement on President Trump’s FY2021 Proposed Budget: A Blueprint for Inequity

WASHINGTON — For the fourth year in a row, President Trump has proposed a budget that exposes his Administration’s clear apathy for our nation’s students, their families, and our public schools. Yet again, the proposed budget fails to invest in the very programs our children need most. The budget would cut $6 billion from education funding, most of which comes from programs designed to close achievement and opportunity gaps and support diverse learners.  It does nothing to support educators or end the teacher shortage crisis, and it fails to invest in parent engagement, literacy, and other critical issues facing our nation’s schools. This blatant disregard for our nation’s most vulnerable students, their families, and teachers is unacceptable. Congress must reject the President’s budget. 

“If enacted, this budget would have a devastating effect on our students with disabilities and our students living in poverty, their families, and the education professionals who work with them every day,” says Lindsay Jones, President & CEO of NCLD. “Rather than directing funding to the places that need it most — resources for schools in low-income communities, improving literacy, increasing family engagement, or strengthening teacher preparation, for example — it actually consolidates the programs into one and cuts overall funding. This tactic will only result in less accountability and will have no guarantee that the funds will be spent as Congress intended.”

“We can’t ignore the incessant threats to our children and public schools from the Trump Administration,” Jones said. “This budget is yet another attempt to deny equal opportunity to every child. It is a missed opportunity to close the equity and achievement gaps plaguing our country.” There are examples of schools all over this nation doing incredible things for kids and we have more to do. We should be incentivizing the programs that strengthen our schools — not simply bankrupting the system. We can create systems that support our young scholars, offer them high-quality opportunities, help them learn to read, build upon their strengths, and make them feel safe and valued. We urge Congress to pass a budget that supports all students and all the programs that are essential to the health and success of the future generation.

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Full statement is available here.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy
mwhittaker@ncld.org ● (202) 464-2140