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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ANDREWS. Ladies and gentlemen of the House, I share my friend from Texas' goal, but I don't share his way of meeting that goal.

I certainly think that any uniformed person who reports something that they are reasonably suspicious of should be protected by the Whistleblower Act and should not have to worry about political correctness or any other standard, but I think that's already the law.

The whistleblower law that already exists frankly says if you blow the whistle on someone for doing something wrong, you are protected.

It is wrong to plan to shoot people on a military base or commit treason against the country, but it is not wrong to look a certain way or be a certain way or think a certain way. So I think that the whistleblower protection, as it exists, protects the situation that my friend from Texas wants to protect, and I believe we all want to protect.

So while I would share his objective in this matter, I think that this amendment is not necessary because present law solves that problem and protects that whistleblower.

Mr. SMITH of Washington. Madam Chair, just to close, I agree with the gentleman's remarks.

Let me just say if I thought that there was the tiniest little bit possibility that this amendment would prevent the type of tragedy that happened at Fort Hood, I would support it unquestionably, but I don't believe it will. The concerns, the back and forth about whether or not to report something that is concerning, they exist, they need to be dealt with. They will exist whether or not this amendment is passed.

We need to work to educate people to report threats, but making it ideologically based, I think, opens up more problems and shifts the focus away from what we need. And what we need is whether the threat is ideological or whatever the cause, we need to encourage people to go to their superiors, report it, and make sure that they are better safe than sorry. I would encourage that, but I don't think this amendment does that. Again, I would urge a ``no'' vote.

I yield back the balance of my time.

The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter).

The amendment was agreed to.

AMENDMENT NO. 12 OFFERED BY MR. HUNTER

The Acting CHAIR. It is now in order to consider amendment No. 12 printed in House Report 112-88.

Mr. HUNTER. I have an amendment at the desk, Madam Chair.

The Acting CHAIR. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

At the end of subtitle H of title V, add the following new section:

SEC. 5__. PILOT PROGRAM ON SCHOLARSHIPS FOR MILITARY DEPENDENT CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS.

(a) Pilot Program Required.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--The Secretary of Defense shall, in conjunction with the Secretaries of the military departments, carry out a pilot program to assess the feasibility and advisability of awarding scholarships to military children with special education needs described in subsection (b) in order to cover the costs of such children in attending a school described in subsection (c) for the purpose of ensuring military children with special education needs a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. Such scholarships shall be known as ``academic opportunity scholarships''.

(2) PURPOSES.--The purposes of the pilot program shall be as follows:

(A) To identify and assess obstacles faced by military families with children with special education needs in obtaining a free appropriate public education to address such needs.

(B) To develop options for military children with special education needs to attend public or private schools through scholarships.

(C) To identify and assess evidence-based research and best practices for providing special education and related services (as those terms are defined in section 602 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401)) for military children with special education needs.

(D) To assess timeliness in obtaining special education and related services described in subparagraph (C).

(E) To identify and document improvements in academic performance of military children with special education needs as a result of the scholarships under the pilot program.

(F) To determine and document the cost associated with obtaining special education and related services described in subparagraph (C) through such scholarships.

(3) CRITERIA.--The Secretary of Defense shall carry out the pilot program based on uniform criteria established by the Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of Education or the appropriate State government agency.

(4) COMMENCEMENT.--The Secretary of Defense shall commence carrying out the pilot program beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year.

(b) Covered Military Dependent Children.--A military dependent child described in this subsection is a child who--

(1) is a dependent of a member of the Armed Forces;

(2) is a member of a family enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member program administered by the Secretary of the military department concerned;

(3) is a child with a disability under section 602 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; and

(4) is covered by a current individualized education program developed and approved in accordance with section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1414) or has been identified as needing special education and related services.

(c) Covered Schools.--A school described in this subsection is any elementary or secondary school as follows:

(1) A private elementary school or secondary school.

(2) A public school in a local educational agency or location other than the local educational agency or location, as the case may be, in which the military dependent child concerned resides.

(3) A public charter school in a local educational agency or location other than the local educational agency or location, as the case may be, in which the military dependent child concerned resides.

(d) Amount, Payment, and Use of Scholarship.--

(1) AMOUNT.--The amount of the scholarship awarded a military dependent child under the pilot program for an academic year may not exceed the lesser of--

(A) the amount required for such academic year for the payment of tuition, fees, transportation, and other expenses in connection with attendance at a school described in subsection (c) for the purpose specified in subsection (a); or

(B) $7,500.

(2) PAYMENT.--Payment of the amount of a scholarship awarded a military dependent child shall be made to the parent or guardian of the child for an academic year.

(3) USE.--Subject to regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense for purposes of the pilot program, the amount of the scholarship awarded a military dependent child shall be utilized for the payment of tuition, fees, transportation, and other expenses in connection with attendance at a school described in subsection (c) for the purpose specified in subsection (a).

(e) Evaluation of Performance of Recipient Military Dependent Children.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--The Secretary of Defense shall conduct an evaluation of the performance of military dependent children awarded scholarships under the pilot program. The evaluation shall address the following:

(A) The progress made by military dependent children awarded scholarships in academic and social performance.

(B) The success of the scholarships in expanding choice in education and related services for military dependent children described in subsection (b).

(C) The success of the scholarships in ensuring timely access of military dependent children described in subsection (b) to special education and related services required under their individualized education programs.

(D) Such other matters as the Secretary considers appropriate.

(2) COMPLETION.--The evaluation required by paragraph (1) shall be completed not later than December 31, 2015.

(f) Options for Improvement of Educational Opportunities for Military Children With Special Education Needs.--

(1) DEVELOPMENT OF OPTIONS.--The Secretary of the Defense shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, develop a variety of options for military families with children with special education needs to enhance the benefits available to such families and children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and better assist such families in meeting such needs.

(2) ACTIONS.--In developing actions under paragraph (1), the Secretaries shall consider the following:

(A) The feasibility of establishing an individualized education program for military children with special education needs that is applicable across jurisdictions of local educational agencies in order to achieve reciprocity among States in acknowledging such programs.

(B) Means of improving oversight and compliance with the provisions of section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that require local educational agencies to support an existing individualized education program for a military child with special education needs who is relocating to another State pursuant to the permanent
change of station of a military parent until an individualized education program is developed and approved for such child in the State to which the child relocates.

(C) The feasibility of establishing an expedited process for resolution of complaints by military parents with a child with special education needs about lack of access to education and related services otherwise specified in the individualized education program of such child.

(D) The feasibility of permitting the Department of Defense to contact the State to which a military family with a child with special education needs will relocate pursuant to a permanent change of station when the orders for such change of station are issued, but before the family takes residence in such State, for the purpose of commencing preparation for education and related services specified in the individualized education program of such child.

(E) The feasibility of establishing a system within the Department of Defense to document complaints by military parents regarding access to free and appropriate public education for their children with special education needs

(F) Means to strengthen the monitoring and oversight of education and related services for military children with special education needs under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children.

(G) Such other matters as the Secretaries jointly consider appropriate.

(g) Reports.--

(1) REPORT ON IMPROVEMENTS OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES.--Not later than September 30, 2013, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress a report setting forth the options developed under subsection (f). The report shall include--

(A) a description of any options developed; and

(B) recommendations for such legislative or administrative action as the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Education jointly consider appropriate to implement such options.

(2) REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF PILOT PROGRAM.--Not later than September 30, 2012, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report setting forth the plans of the Secretary for the award of scholarships under the pilot program, including any regulations prescribed for purposes of subsection (d)(3).

(3) FINAL REPORT ON PILOT PROGRAM.--Not later than September 30, 2016, the Secretary shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report on the scholarships awarded under the pilot program. The report shall include--

(A) a description of the scholarships awarded under the pilot program, including the number and amount of scholarships by school year;

(B) the results of the evaluation required by subsection (e); and

(C) such other matters as the Secretary considers appropriate.

(h) Funding for Scholarships.--

(1) ADDITIONAL, DISCRETIONARY BUDGET AUTHORITY.--Of the amounts authorized to be appropriated by section 301 for Defense-wide operation and maintenance for family advocacy activities, as specified in the corresponding funding table in division D, the Secretary of Defense shall obligate an additional $10,000,000 to award scholarships to military dependent children under the pilot program.

(2) LIMITATION ON ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES.--Not more than five percent of the amount specified in paragraph (1) may be used to cover administrative expenses to carry out the pilot program.

(3) MERIT-BASED OR COMPETITIVE DECISIONS.--A decision to commit, obligate, or expend funds made available under paragraph (1) with or to a specific entity or person shall--

(A) be based on merit-based selection procedures in accordance with the requirements of sections 2304(k) and 2374 of title 10, United States Code, or on competitive procedures; and

(B) comply with other applicable provisions of law.

(i) Sunset.--The pilot program shall expire on September 30, 2016. No scholarship may be awarded under the pilot program for an academic year that begins on or after that date.

(j) Funding Increase and Offsetting Reduction.--Notwithstanding the amounts set forth in the funding tables in division D--

(1) the amount authorized to be appropriated in section 301 for Defense-wide operation and maintenance, as specified in the corresponding funding table in division D, is hereby increased by $10,000,000, with the amount of the increase allocated to carrying out the pilot program; and

(2) the amount authorized to be appropriated in section 1433 for the Mission Force Enhancement Transfer Fund, as specified in the corresponding funding table in division D, is hereby reduced by $10,000,000.

The Acting CHAIR. Pursuant to House Resolution 276, the gentleman from California (Mr. Hunter) and a Member opposed each will control 5 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from California.

Mr. HUNTER. Madam Chair, this amendment is very simple.

The most important assets we have in our United States military are our personnel, the men and women that we move around. They get moved around, they usually don't have a choice of where they move from base to base and camp to camp, and this amendment specifically covers those ladies and men who protect us that have special needs children, those children that would otherwise be covered under the IDEA, the disability act for kids, ensuring them a good education. However, these parents don't always know where they're going.

What this would do would start a pilot program for up to 250 kids to allow them to choose whatever school fits their needs best, whether it's a private school, a charter school or public school, and to see if that helps alleviate some of the pain that the families face as they travel from base to base, as they go overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, so we can take care of their kids here at home. It's a pilot program.

I would like to say on our side the only issue that we had with this amendment was its funding source. I have spoken to the chairman from California, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee; and we are going to pull the funding source out of DOD and find another funding stream for this in conference.

So with that taken care of, I would like to yield 2 minutes to my good friend from Arizona (Mr. Franks).

Mr. FRANKS of Arizona. I thank the gentleman.

Madam Chair, all of us are grateful to the men and women who put themselves in harm's way between the malevolent and the innocents for the sake of this country. We need to remind ourselves that they don't fight because they hate the enemy or hate what's in front of them. They fight because they love what's behind them. They love us, they love their country, they love the cause of freedom, and they love their families. They love their families more than anything, Madam Chair; and they want to make sure that their children have the very best future that they can give them.

Madam Chair, this amendment that I am so thankful to Mr. Hunter for bringing forth would allow parents an extra option for their children, especially when their special needs children, in the midst of all the travel that the armed services people have to make, they need this option, Madam Chair; and I just think it's unbelievable that we wouldn't support them. Because, fundamentally, one of two people will choose the educational values, the educational substance of our children's future. It will be one of two. It will either be a person who doesn't know their name, or a person called a parent who would die for them in a moment.

I would submit, Madam Chair, that that decision is best left to the parents. Notwithstanding the opposition from the teachers unions, the parents are the best ones to be able to choose the school that their children go to. Nothing will shape the future of America more than the values and the academics that are inculcated in the hearts and minds of our children, and that should belong to parents, especially those who are fighting and dying for this country and they have a special needs child. We should give this to them.

I encourage my colleagues to support this amendment.

Mr. SMITH of Washington. Madam Chair, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from Washington is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. SMITH of Washington. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in opposition to this amendment for a couple of reasons. First of all, I'm curious about the ``we're not actually going to fund it out of DOD, we will fund the money somewhere else in conference'' argument because it's funded out of DOD right now. Unless this is now being offered as a sense of Congress with no money attached to it, in a minute I would be curious to hear exactly how that works.

But beyond that, this is not what is in the best interests of the children of our servicemembers. To give them a $7,500 voucher to go get special needs education is a license for them not to get the education they need. As everyone in this body knows, the costs of special needs children can sometimes be as much as $100,000 a year to our public schools. There are some children out there who have some very, very strong needs.

Fortunately, because of the IDEA, the public schools in this country are 100 percent obligated to meet that need. Talk to any school superintendent who has to deal with this, it's an enormous cost, but it's also an enormous benefit to these children. They have to meet those needs, and if they don't, it is precisely the parent who has the law on his or her side to say the public school must meet that requirement.

If you give them a $7,500 voucher and send them off to whatever private school is out there, they are not subject to those same requirements. They do not have to meet that same dollar value. What you are doing is you are undermining the education for these special needs children in a way that could be very detrimental to our families.

Now, we had a very long debate on this in the Armed Services Committee. This amendment was defeated on a bipartisan basis in committee for a variety of different reasons. I want to make it clear, it was stated throughout, how can you not care about the children of our servicemembers, and more than one Member on our side said, we do. This is not what this is about. We absolutly care about the children of our servicemembers. We want them to get the best education possible. But taking special needs families, giving them a $7,500 voucher and sending them out into the public and private school world and saying, good luck, is not what is in the best interests of parents with special needs children. It simply isn't. They are not getting the type of protections that they have under the law if they go out in that situation.

I would strongly urge a ``no'' vote on this amendment.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. HUNTER. I would like to yield 30 seconds to the distinguished gentleman from California and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. McKeon.

Mr. McKEON. I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I thank him for working with the staff to try to find a way to get this pilot program moving forward to help our parents in the military of those who have special needs. One of the things that is different between the military and other people is they are moved often, and they don't have time to go through all of the process to get all of the help they need. This would help them. It's a pilot program.

I encourage the adoption of the amendment.

Mr. SMITH of Washington. Madam Chair, I yield myself the remainder of my time.

I find that last argument interesting to say that they move around a lot. I think that is very true. I think they do, and that is a challenge. And they don't have time to make all of these decisions. But they do have time to take a $7,500 voucher and search across all the different schools to see which private schools are going to take it. Because keep in mind, that's another critical aspect of this. Private schools do not have to accept a single solitary student. They don't. You show up with a $7,500 voucher and they say, we're sorry, your child is going to cost more than that. They just say no and move on.

Public schools do have to accept these children and do have to fund it. I really do believe that this will be a step in the wrong direction. The cost is also going to be an issue. We are going to have to find the money for this somewhere. It's not going to improve the education or the lives of our servicemembers and their families, and it is going to wind up costing money.

Again, I would urge a ``no'' vote;

I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. HUNTER. Madam Chair, I would like to inquire how much time is remaining.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from California has 2 minutes remaining. The gentleman from Washington has 1 1/2 minutes remaining.

Mr. HUNTER. Madam Chair, I would like to yield the balance of my time to the gentlelady from Washington (Mrs. McMorris Rodgers).

Mrs. McMORRIS RODGERS. I appreciate the gentleman yielding, and I rise in strong support of Mr. Hunter's amendment.

Last November, we recognized the 35th anniversary of IDEA, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. And prior to IDEA, one out of five children was denied access to a quality education through the public school system because of a disability. IDEA has changed the opportunity for education, but the reality for many special needs students is it still requires an attorney in order to get the education that they need. From the time that a special needs student begins their education, a family needs an attorney. In fact, I was encouraged to hire an attorney to navigate the educational process for my son, Cole.

But picture this scenario: for the men and women who serve our country, many of whom are parents of children with special needs, between deployment and transfers, our servicemen and -women don't have the resources to go through litigation, nor should they.

Most military families do not choose where they live, and they usually don't get the choice when it comes to their schools. But the amendment we are offering today would allow these families to recognize the opportunities of IDEA and authorize scholarships for military families with special needs to be able to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child, whether it be a public school, a private school, or a charter school.

This initiative will provide valuable information and data for Congress as we move to reform and reauthorize IDEA and address this issue over the long term. There is no doubt that IDEA is flawed. This would help us get the information to make it better for all children with special needs.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from California has 15 seconds remaining.

Mr. HUNTER. Madam Chair, I would obviously urge a ``yes'' vote on this amendment and yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. SMITH of Washington. I yield the remainder of my time to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Andrews).

Mr. ANDREWS. I thank my friend for yielding.

I think there's universal agreement that we all want the finest quality education for all children and in this case for special needs children. I actually think that the effect of this amendment is to narrow educational opportunities for special needs children in the following way.

The provision sets up a $7,500 subsidy each year that the parents can choose to use as they see fit. That, I think, narrows the choices already available under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, IDEA. Presently, what happens if a servicemember family is located in a certain community and they have a special needs child, the school district in which that child resides is under a Federal legal obligation to provide the highest quality education, the least restrictive educational environment for that child. And if the parents disagree with the choice that is made by the school system, by the Child Study Team, they frankly have the right through Federal law to appeal it and change it.

So I think what actually happens here is that by limiting the level of financial support for these families, we are limiting the educational opportunities for the child; whereas the IDEA puts the force of Federal law behind the best outcome for that child. So I think we all want to accomplish the same thing. I respectfully believe the present law accomplishes that better than the amendment would, and I urge a ``no'' vote.

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