With most of the 2018 races decided, we are looking ahead to see what the new Congress will do in 2019 to improve the lives of students with disabilities. Democrats will gain at least 37 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and will be in power of the chamber come January. The Senate will stay in the control of Republicans with 53 Republican seats to 47 Democrat seats.

But what does the new Congress mean for students with disabilities?

For starters, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will likely be led by veteran member Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA). Rep. Scott has stated in a letter that he will work towards “advancing equity in education, expanding access to affordable health care, ensuring workers have a safe workplace where they can earn decent wages, and conducting rigorous oversight into this Administration’s deregulatory agenda.” Rep. Scott has previously stated that his priorities for education include expanding access for early childhood education, improving the juvenile justice system to better support students and reducing debt for students attending institutions of higher education.

Another top priority for Rep. Scott is probing further into the work of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Congress has the power to monitor the actions taken by the Administration, and one top issue for Democrats is whether ED is ensuring that states are complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Democrats are concerned that ED approved plans that  fail to meet the requirements set out in the law. Rep. Scott could call U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, or any other official at ED to answer questions about the approval of state plans and other education issues.

Other civil rights issues that could be contentious between the new House leadership and ED are:

  • Secretary DeVos’s delayed implementation of a rule for special education dealing with how districts identify and serve students of color with special education services.
  • Secretary DeVos’s rewrite of federal Title IX guidance that allows schools to raise the bar on what evidence is needed to prove claims of sexual assault and harassment.
  • Secretary DeVos’s decision to revoke guidance designed to ensure transgender students had access to restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

In 2019 and beyond, NCLD will work to ensure that  members of Congress strengthen and protect federal civil rights laws and provide more supports for students with disabilities in public education. Be sure to look for the upcoming release of NCLD’s legislative priorities for 2019 and see how you can get involved in our advocacy efforts in the next Congress.

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