Nov. 20, 2004
INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I express my support for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act conference report that passed the Senate yesterday. It is not a perfect bill, but I believe it represents a fair balance of the concerns of schools and parents of children with disabilities. Above all, it upholds the rights of all children with disabilities to a free, appropriate education in our public schools. It promises them access to a high quality education to help them succeed and live productive lives. And it includes strong monitoring and enforcement provisions to ensure that that promise is kept.
The bill includes several improvements over current law that will help secure the rights of children with disabilities and uphold the rights of parents advocating for their children. First, it holds schools accountable for educating disabled students by giving the Secretary of Education the tools to monitor how well States and schools are complying with the law and sanctioning those that fail to serve disabled students. It provides flexibility and resources for early intervention and preschool services for younger children, and promotes transition services for older students in order to prepare for their post-school years. It preserves the Individualized Education Programs to ensure that parents have quarterly reports of their child's progress and short-term objectives for those with the most severe disabilities. It provides for more teacher training and strengthens teacher quality requirements so that students are taught by highly qualified teachers. It also adds options for parents and schools to work together to resolve disputes, but preserves the right to due process if a school is out of compliance.
At the same time, this bill also responds to many of the concerns raised by schools and teachers. It provides relief from unnecessary and burdensome paperwork so that teachers can focus their attention on educational services. It provides more opportunities to resolve conflicts and disagreements other than through costly and acrimonious litigation. And it provides more resources for professional development so teachers are equipped to deal with the often complex but critical needs of students with disabilities.
This bill also addresses the serious issue of discipline-an issue that has caused many concerns over the years by both education officials and parents of children with disabilities. The bill includes a bipartisan compromise that clarifies and strengthens discipline provisions so that schools can remove children who pose a serious danger to themselves or others to an alternative setting, while ensuring that those children continue to receive services. At the same time, this compromise protects the rights of disabled children in disciplinary action by preserving the manifestation determination so that children are not punished for behavior caused by their disability, and continuing services if a child is placed in an alternative setting. I know that some parents are worried about these revised discipline provisions and would prefer current law. I agree that we must continue to monitor these provisions carefully to ensure they are implemented fairly and with the best interests of disabled children in mind.
Despite these positive features, I am very disappointed that this bill does not move us any closer to fully funding IDEA. When IDEA was first enacted in 1975, Congress made a commitment to fund 40 percent of the costs, in recognition of the added expenses schools would incur in serving disabled students. Today, the Federal Government is funding IDEA at the highest levels since it was created-but sadly, that funding only covers approximately 19 percent of the costs. I have cosponsored and supported legislation that would require mandatory full funding for IDEA, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to fight for full funding of IDEA. It is past time for the Federal Government to live up to its obligations.
The conference report is not a perfect bill. Clearly, there are provisions that will trouble both sides-both the educational community and the families of disabled children. But on balance, I think the bill represents a real compromise and has great potential to lead to improved educational services for children with disabilities. It attempts to create a balanced approach that recognizes the challenges faced by teachers and schools, while still ensuring that all children with disabilities have access to the highest quality education. I will continue to work to fully fund its provisions so that the promises it makes will become a reality. This bill is worthy of the Senate's support and I urge my colleagues to vote for it.