CONGRESSMAN PAT TIBERI'S CAPITOL NOTEBOOK
For the week of November 28, 2004
WASHINGTON-Fulfilling a promise we made three years ago, Congress has approved long-sought reform of the primary federal law governing special education. Passage of legislation renewing the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) will strengthen and improve education for six and a half million special education students and their families.
I've been in Congress nearly four years and during that time, I've heard as much from local school officials about the need for IDEA reform as I have about any other subject. We set out with one fundamental goal in mind, and that was to improve the educational results for students with disabilities. We accomplished that goal through this legislation, which gained overwhelming, bipartisan approval.
The final bill is closely aligned with the recommendations of President Bush's Commission on Excellence in Special Education. It includes important provisions to give parents more choices and greater control when it comes to their child's education. We increased the focus on academic results and more closely aligned special education with the No Child Left Behind Act education reform law. The No Child Left Behind Act was the most sweeping Federal education reform in decades for students with disabilities. For the first time we ensured that states would include children with disabilities in their accountability systems. We made it clear that all children, including those with disabilities, deserve a high-quality education.
Our new legislation makes sure the rules written under IDEA help special education teachers, parents, and students get the most out of that system instead of making it harder for them. To support teachers and schools, we included steps to reduce the crushing paperwork burden that is keeping teachers out of the classroom and in many cases driving teachers out of the profession altogether. We also restore common sense to school discipline to keep schools safe for all students and to hold students accountable for their actions. Students will have the same punishment for the same infraction unless the disciplinary problem is the direct result of a child's disability.
We also give states and schools the clarity they have been seeking on what it means to be a "highly qualified" special education teacher. In No Child Left Behind we said that every child shall learn from a highly qualified teacher and children in special education are no exception. We added flexibility, though, for states and teachers to meet the "highly qualified" definition for special ed teachers, but we did not do anything to slow down the progress states are making in reaching that goal.
We are going to cut down on costly and unnecessary litigation in special education, and we are going to hold attorneys liable for frivolous lawsuits. That is important because we need to restore a sense of trust between parents and schools. We want to encourage cooperation to do what is best for students and to so, we need to cut down on damaging lawsuits.
And as important as anything else, our bill puts the Federal government on a 6-year glide path to reaching our original goal of funding up to 40 percent of the excess cost of educating students with special needs. And as we get closer to that goal, we are also going to give local communities more control over how they spend their own local dollars.