Washington Update, September 22, 2023

Dear Colleagues:

The alarm bells are beginning to sound in DC as lawmakers and federal employees prepare for a possible government shutdown. Since Monday, House Republicans have postponed a vote on their proposed continuing resolution (CR) that would have extended government funding for one month but with an 8% cut to non-defense discretionary (NDD) funding (this includes education funding), except for veterans’ health care. The bill did not have enough support to pass, since all Democrats would oppose it and some Republicans who wanted deeper spending cuts. While no one really knows what will happen next week there are talks that the House Republicans  could push to markup the last of the FY2024 spending bills- including Labor HHS Education, which reportedly could tee up the possibility for a continuing resolution. As you will recall, the Republican House bill would slash education funding by nearly $64 billion or 28%. In a letter to House leadership, the Coalition for Teaching Quality described the bill as a direct attack on the educator workforce that will harm professionals at all levels, impacting students, families, and communities. Regardless if the government shuts down after next Saturday or not, your feedback to lawmakers on the importance of education funding is critical.

1. Celebrating 50 years of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is celebrating 50 years of the Rehabilitation Act. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 stands as a pivotal piece of legislation that reshaped the provision of services and broadened the rights of people with disabilities across our country. In a recent blog post, OSERS highlighted some significant high points from the last 50 years including:

  • Individuals with the most significant disabilities are being served through both the VR and supported employment programs to achieve competitive integrated employment, including supported employment, and customized employment;
  • Individualized services and informed choice have become cornerstones in the VR process, empowering individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions along with their VR counselors on their individualized employment plans and in all aspects of their VR journey and the determination of their employment goals;
  • Competitive integrated employment has been defined as the goal of the VR and supported employment programs, removing segregated employment and employment at subminimum wage from the realm of authorized outcomes under the Rehabilitation Act and ensuring full participation in the full and equitable economic life of their communities;
  • WIOA introduced pre-employment transition services to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the initial services that can assist them in exploring the world of work and raising their expectations as they begin the transition from school to postsecondary education or employment;
  • Vocational opportunities and choices have expanded exponentially with the advancements in technology; the opportunities for remote and hybrid work environments; the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers under WIOA; support for postsecondary education, apprenticeships and career pathways; and
  • Partnerships with workforce development, employers, state and federal agencies, educational agencies and stakeholder groups have enhanced resources and opportunities for collaboration leading to greater success and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

You can read OSERS complete blog post celebrating 50 years of the Rehabilitation Act  here.

2. House Education and Workforce Committee Holds Hearing on WIOA

On Thursday, the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing, “Strengthening WIOA: Improving Outcomes for Jobseekers, Employers, and Taxpayers,” to examine the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  WIOA supports efforts to improve workforce participation, and Title IV of the Act amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy. Congress passed the Act with a wide bipartisan majority; it is the first legislative reform of the public workforce system since 1998.  Key themes emerging from the hearing included the need for efficiency, flexibility, and accountability as well as fully investing in the system, reducing barriers for underserved workers, and improving the quality of job opportunities.

You can watch the hearing in its entirety and read testimony here.

3. OCR Resolves Disability Harassment Investigation at the Allegheny Valley School District in Pennsylvania

This week, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a disability harassment investigation of the Allegheny Valley School District in Pennsylvania. As reported by the Department, OCR determined that the district subjected a student with a disability to harassment so pervasive that it constituted a hostile environment and that the district failed to take necessary steps to protect the student, end the harassment, and assess whether the harassment impeded the student’s ability to access the district’s educational program, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), and their implementing regulations.

As detailed in a press release, over a period of six months, classmates repeatedly directed disability slurs at the student and both physically attacked the student and threatened to attack him in a manner directly related to his disability, all of which the student’s parent, and school staff, reported to a district principal. One of the attacks was captured on school security camera video and still the principal did not treat it as disability-based harassment. OCR’s investigation revealed that the district did not investigate all incidents reported, and where the district investigated, its investigations were so limited that they, for example, disregarded an eyewitness report and did not seek information from relevant witnesses.

The resolution agreement commits the district to take steps to ensure nondiscrimination based on disability in all of its education programs and activities, including:

  • The distribution of a memorandum to all district staff affirming the district’s obligations pursuant to Section 504 and Title II.
  • Training all school staff.
  • Offering individual remedies to the student, such as counseling, academic or other therapeutic services to remedy the effects of the harassment.
  • Convening the student’s IEP team, as appropriate, to determine whether he experienced a FAPE impact due to the harassment.
  • A review of all bullying incidents for a three-year period at the school to determine any needed additional remedies. And,
  • A climate assessment to evaluate needed additional supports to ensure a nondiscriminatory school environment for students.

The letter to Allegheny Valley School District is available here and the resolution agreement is available here.

4. New Resources for Educators

  • The Council for Exceptional Children has opened registration for its Fall Professional Development fair. This online event features over 20 live 2-hour sessions with content from CEC, CEC Special Interest Divisions, and the PROGRESS Center.

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.
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