February Policy Round Up

Congress stares down a government shutdown, new data shows an increase in enrollment of students with disabilities in public schools, and two states make important strides on legislation to support students. Learn more about what NCLD did in February.


Federal Funding Update—Congress Passes Another Continuing Resolution to Avoid Shutdown

Congress passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) for the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill in late February, extending funding for the U.S. Department of Education (USED) until March 22. This is the fourth CR Congress passed to maintain the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 funding levels (and avoid a government shutdown) while negotiating funding levels for FY 2024. This “kicking the can down the road” approach has enabled more time for Congress to agree on funding levels. Still, the risk of funding cuts continues later this spring through sequestration (automatic funding cuts triggered by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023).

Meanwhile, federal agencies like ED are gearing up for the release of the President’s proposed budget for FY 2025.  

USED Releases a Data Resource on Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently released a handful of new resources addressing the civil rights of students with disabilities, including a data snapshot on students with disabilities from the new 2020-21 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The snapshot reports that students with disabilities comprised 17% of the total student population, 14% served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and 3% served under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act only. This is a slight increase from the last iteration of CRDC in the 2017-18 school year, where students with disabilities comprised 16% of the total student population. The snapshot also highlights data on enrollment by disability and race/ ethnicity, enrollment by disability and sex, access to advanced coursework, discipline rates, bullying, and more.

Other resources recently published include information regarding students with disabilities who have asthma, diabetes, food allergies, and GERD are available on the OCR website.


CCD Addresses Mental Health in Higher Education

The Consortium for Constituents with Disabilities (CCD) Education Task Force responded to a federal request for information on mental health in higher education, signed by several disability rights organizations. In the letter to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) Office of Postsecondary Education, CCD provided recommendations on how USED can help colleges and universities better serve students facing mental health issues, including by providing better assessments, establishing model policies for crisis response, expanding access to necessary accommodations, and implementing staff training.

State Spotlight—New Jersey Advances Legislation on LD Identification

Legislation was introduced in the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly in late January that would impact how students are identified as having a specific learning disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The bills (S1812 in the Senate and A1194 in the General Assembly) would prohibit using the “discrepancy model” for identifying a learning disability— an outdated method of identification that compares achievement and intellectual ability, often using IQ. Instead, the state would require more holistic and research-backed approaches to be used to determine if a student has a learning disability, which proactively ensures students are being accurately identified.  

State Update—Virginia RISE Act Goes to a Conference Committee 

A state-level version of the federal Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act in the Virginia legislature is moving to a Conference Committee. This means that lawmakers will negotiate on differences between the Virginia House of Delegates version of the bill (HB 509) and the Virginia Senate version of the bill (SB 21) to try and devise a compromise that can pass in both chambers.

The original versions of SB 21 / HB 509 replicated the RISE Act, which NCLD advocates for federally in Congress. The legislation in Virginia would streamline the process to qualify for disability services across public colleges and universities in Virginia to ensure that students with disabilities thrive in higher education. It would standardize documentation requirements and require colleges to accept various forms of documentation of a disability, including an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan, eliminating the need for unnecessary, often costly re-evaluations for students with previously documented disabilities. During the legislative process, the Virginia Senate changed its bill’s language to authorize a study on the existing system for receiving accommodations and what barriers exist for students with disabilities.

In Case You Missed It

  • Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) released a report on declining child literacy rates in the United States, citing results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2022, which showed average reading scores at a 20-year low. 
  • Rep. Michael Lawler (R-NY-17) signed on as a co-sponsor of the RISE Act, bringing the count of official supporters to 11 cosponsors in the House and 9 in the Senate.
  • The. U.S. Department of Education released the number of students with disabilities who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2021-2022. The data shows an increase in the number of students served in preschool programs and ages 5-21(read more): 
    • Students ages 3-5 (not in Kindergarten) increased by 13.6% (totaling 535,392)
    • School-aged students (ages 5-21) increased by 3%, topping 7 million for the first time