Senate IDEA Bill Gets Even Better, Heads For Clash With House Version

Report on Disability Programs 27.11 (May 27, 2004) 

Senate reauthorization on May 13 of federal special education law renews hope among children’s advocates that Washington will ultimately enact legislation that continues supporting the rights of children with disabilities.

Amendments added during a day and a half of debate only seem to sweeten S. 1248 from advocates’ viewpoint. More importantly, the Senate bill counterbalances a reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the House last year those same advocates largely consider to be a disaster in the making.

Can it Get Done This Year?

The Senate’s sudden, swift action on the legislation also renews hopes that the IDEA reauthorization will become law by the end of the year. Both President Bush the House GOP leadership released statements immediately after the Senate action, declaring their eagerness to get the bill through.

The biggest remaining hurdle will be ironing out a compromise bill in a conference committee, given some of the serious differences between the Senate and House versions. The committee’s members and schedule have yet to be determined.

Contrary to the Senate bill, the House version, H.R. 1350 “would allow schools to unilaterally expel any child with a disability it determines has violated any school ‘code of conduct,’ regardless of the seriousness of the offense,” according the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. H.R. 1350 also would eliminate assessments that help ensure school officials treat disabled students fairly over matters of disruptive behavior.

Mandated ‘Full Funding’ Fails

In contrast, two days on the Senate floor only made Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass) appealing in advocates’ eyes.

Although another attempt failed to mandate an increase in the federal share of IDEA funding, the Senate passed an alternative that would set a schedule for achieving “full” federal funding within seven years. The full federal share, as determined in the original version of IDEA in 1975, is 40 percent of states’ special education costs. Currently, Washington is paying about $10.1 billion, or 18.6 percent of those costs.

The failed amendment, from Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), would have mandated that the 40-percent level be reached within six years. Because it would have violated federal budgetary law, it needed 60 votes to pass. But it failed 56-41.

Gregg said mandatory funding provisions raise the deficit and do not allow Congress to set priorities. Mandatory IDEA funding could also lead to offsetting cutbacks in other education programs.

In the 95-3 Senate vote approving S. 1248, the three “nays” came from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (DMich), as well as Sens. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said they opposed the bill because it lacked a mandatory funding provision.

Contact the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, (202) 224-6770; Bazelon Center, (202) 467-5730.

According to: the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)

Attorneys Fees:

States could collect these fees under certain circumstances, such as when parental complaints are frivolous or without foundation. This would make IDEA conform with other civil rights laws. Also, several attempts to cap parents’ attorneys’ fees failed, so parents’ access to attorneys would remain the same. The amendment was from Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Filling in Some Service Gaps

Schools would have an easier time providing services under IDEA to children in foster care, or with both parents in the military or who are homeless. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offered the amendment.


Fifteen states would be chosen for demonstration projects to reduce IDEA-related documentation, under an amendment from Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). It also would preclude these states from waiving any protections children and families now get under IDEA.

Students With Developmental Disabilities

The U.S. Education would study the effect of certain environmental health factors on students with developmental disabilities, as originally authorized under the Children’s Health Act of 2000. The amendment came from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Contact DREDF, (Berkeley, Calif., headquarters) (510) 644-2555, (Washington, D.C.) (202) 986-0375.

©2004 Business Publishers, Inc.