DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2004
Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, I rise today in support of Mr. Dodd's amendment, as well as Mr. Jeffords' and Mr. Hagel's. I know Senator Dayton, my seatmate here, has been a strong advocate of IDEA funding and fully funding IDEA, and I want to mention Senator Dayton because he is such a great advocate on this issue.
There is no commitment we can make, no investment we can make, no service we can perform that is more important to the domestic well-being of this country than to educate our children. It truly is an investment in the future.
I quote a statement from Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS, in 1954:
When I say in these days it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity for an education, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available on equal terms.
That is what IDEA is all aboutproviding a quality, equal education to our children who are disabled.
This proposal by Senator Dodd will increase the funding for IDEAunfortunately, not up to the 40 percent threshold the Federal Government committed to several years ago but, nonetheless, a sizable increase in IDEA funding. I am very supportive of Senator Dodd and his efforts.
I also believe that for 27 years, we have found excuse after excuse to break our promise when it comes to IDEA. If it is not one thing it is another. There is always some reason. There is always some explanation. There is always a promise to do better next year. Senator Dodd's leadership and this great amendment he is offering is getting us closer to fulfilling our commitment and our promise this year in this bill.
In 2003, we appropriated only 17.6 percent of the funding for IDEA. We promised to fund 40 percent. We have never come close. In my State of Arkansas, we have 58,000 disabled children who will benefit from Senator Dodd's amendment.
Again, I thank him for his leadership and for his courage in standing up on this issue. It is very critical for this country that we educate our disabled children.
The last point I wish to make before I turn the floor back over to my colleague from Connecticut is that when I was attorney general of my State, many of the cases dealt with IDEA. Not in all cases, but in many instances, the fundamental problem and the reason the State was being sued was because we were not providing enough money and resources to educate our handicapped children. Today, we are taking a step in the right direction to do that.
I thank the Chair, and I yield back the remainder of my time to my colleague from Connecticut.
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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today to support the efforts of Mr. DODD, Mr. JEFFORDS, and Mr. HAGEL, to increase funding for the education of disabled children.
I will also note that a few days ago, Senator DAYTON offered an amendment to increase Federal funding for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to its full amount of 40 percent of excess cost to local education agencies.
I was proud to support that effort, although it failed, and I want to thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of those who cannot always help themselves. I was proud to support it if for no other reason than to call attention to what is right and what is fair and to where our priorities should lay.
There is no commitment we can keep, no investment we can make, no service we can perform that is more important to the domestic well-being of this country than educating our children.
By the same token, it doesn't do us any good to educate some while leaving others behind. Instead of providing opportunity for all of our children, we are closing doors. Instead of educating and shaping future productive citizens and leaders, we are, in some cases neglecting those who need our help the most. Those, who if we do not help now, will surely revisit us in the future disguised as another societal problemill prepared for life and solely dependent on the Government.
I quote, Mr. President: "In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms."
That excerpt comes from the decision of Brown v. Board of Education, 1954.
The amendment offered today by the distinguished Senators from Connecticut, Vermont, and Nebraska remind us of our commitment to those children who need our help the most, those children who have been left out and left behind, those who have been denied this right.
They propose to raise funding for IDEA in the Labor-Health Education appropriations bill by $1.2 billion to the budget authorized increase of $2.2 billion.
This was a budget, incidentally, that we authorized only several short months ago. The IDEA authorization, a bright spot in an otherwise misprioritized budget, was agreed upon by a vast majority of this body. Now we find ourselves taking a step back from that vote, from that commitment. A vote, I am sure many of us trumpeted in our press releases and in trips back home.
I realize that a lot has happened since we debated and voted on a budget resolution. In the coming days, we will be looking at another war supplemental, revenues are down, and deficits are soaring through the roof.
We have many priorities and little money to meet them. These facts are not lost on me. But, I also believe that for 27 years, we have found excuse after excuse to break our promise. If it wasn't one thing it was another. There was always some reason, always some explanation and always a promise to do better next year. We can start doing better by this Nation's children this year, right here, right now with this vote.
This is a highly necessary step to continue us on the path toward fully funding IDEA, toward fulfilling the promise made by this body 27 years ago. And I say continue because I recognize that we have increased funding in recent years in this body. I recognize that the level of funding we have provided to Part B of IDEA has increased by over 200 percent since 1996. Even so, if you look at where we started with this legislation, funding less than 7 percent of excess cost, we have woefully shortchanged those whom we have sworn to protect. In addition our current funding levels fail to keep pace with escalating special education costs.
To listen to some of our colleagues speak about the "revolutionary increases" and massive gains we have made in education funding and special education funding in specific, one might think that we have fulfilled those commitments.
But in the history of this legislation, appropriations have never neared the 40 percent promise we made to our schools back in 1975. In fact, in 2003, appropriations only funded 17.6 percent of the excess cost to States. And this is at a time when we are asking our States to shoulder more burdens than ever before. This year, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that local communities and States will take on approximately $10 billion in unfunded mandate, Federal special education costs.
In my State of Arkansas, there are roughly 58,000 disabled children. With adequate Federal funding to IDEA we can provide these children more teachers, we can provide those teachers better training, we can reduce class size, and we can create more efficiency in diagnostics. We can do all this while alleviating the pressure to States and localities not to mention lessening the tax burden on individual taxpayers.
Some of my colleagues might tell us we cannot afford to fund IDEA at the levels it needs to be funded. I would say we can't afford not to. If this is not a priority for us now, I ask if it will ever be?
It was once said by Hubert H. Humphrey that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.
Well, this is a discussion about those in the dawn of their lives and we in this body, we in government have an opportunity to save these children from being cast in the shadows of life.
I am not sure if there is anyone in this body that disagrees to whether or not IDEA works.
Prior to IDEA's passage, nearly half of all children with disabilities were not allowed to enroll in public schools. The remaining half were segregated in inadequate classrooms.
Today, over 6 million children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education, because of IDEA. Since IDEA was enacted, the number of young disabled adults in college has tripled. The disabled child dropout rate has decreased by more than 50 percent.
These are wonderful results. Imagine the results we could attain, if we funded this legislation to the appropriate levels.
We made a commitment; we should keep it. I think we owe our children that much. They reap the rewards or pay the price for the policies we enact today. They are the ones who cannot defend themselves.
As I prepared to speak on this issue I read the debate that preceded the passage of the 'Education for All Handicapped Children Act,' in 1975. I tried to perhaps shed some light on the intent of Congress in passing this legislation. Immediately I saw the importance members of that distinguished body placed on funding special education.
In fact, Senator Javits from New York, a Republican, said "Again, I point out, Mr. President, that we have only appropriated $100 million under the present law, part B of the Education of the Handicapped Act, which authorizes $666 million yearly. Mr. President, this shows our lack of the right priorities and our deficiencies."
Senator Stafford, a Vermont Republican, said "If enacted into law, this bill will finally begin to bring to all the handicapped children of our Nation what has always been their righta free appropriate public education."
A beginning. Both of these distinguished Senators from the other side of the aisle understood where we were, where we had to go, and how we had to get there. They knew that we could do better by our children. And so do Senators DODD, JEFFORDS, HAGEL, and DAYTON.
I appreciate their leadership on this issue, and I wish to join them in making sure that we do better by our children, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.