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Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003

Location: Washington DC


Mr. McCAIN. I would like to commend the bill managers for reaching a bipartisan compromise on this important issue. Recognizing the substantial challenges the current law has posed to many schools and school districts, this bill seeks to strike a very difficult balance between the interests of disabled children and their families and the schools and school districts. However, despite the substantial improvements this legislation makes over current law, issues of concern remain among a number of interested parties, including education groups in Arizona.

I am also concerned about some of the unintended consequences that have arisen as a result of the Federal restrictions placed on school districts concerning the manner in which they are allowed to discipline students with special needs. For example, an Arizona school district recently identified a number of students involved in the sale and distribution of illegal drugs on school property, a very serious incident that placed the other students and the teachers at that school at great risk. All of the students involved in the incident were expelled, with the exception of one student who has a mild disability.

I recognize the Senator from New Hampshire already has worked to include language in this bill to reverse the "stay put rule," which schools, school districts, and the Arizona Superintendent of Education, Tom Horne, have expressed substantial frustration over. I want to commend the sponsor's efforts and hope to work with him to ensure that schools are not prevented from taking action to discipline children as appropriate, including those enrolled in IDEA. I know this issue is also of concern to my colleague from Arizona.

Mr. KYL. I would also like to congratulate the senior Senator from New Hampshire for his success in getting this legislation this far through hard work and bipartisanship. We recognize that securing consensus necessitated compromise on a position we all share: that schools should be able to maintain a single standard for discipline. Like Senator McCain, I am very pleased that this legislation repeals the "stay-put rule," a major priority of Superintendent Horne and other education leaders in our state.

Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator. IDEA is centered on an individualized approach to educating children with special needs. Disciplining those students whose actions endanger other students and faculty also should be done on an individual basis-a one size-fits-all Federal approach to discipline disregards the individual nature of the actions of the students involved, and is not the best approach.

Another issue that concerns schools and administrators in Arizona is Section 616, regarding monitoring, technical assistance, and enforcement. It would allow the Secretary of Education to refer a case to the Department of Justice if the Secretary determines the State has shown a "significant lack of progress" or is in "substantial noncompliance" or "egregious noncompliance" with IDEA. Schools from across Arizona are concerned that the language in this bill is too vague and could lead to excessively burdensome litigation if a State is labeled to be "significantly noncompliant" or "egregiously noncompliant."

Mr. KYL. I certainly understand the concern that this provision could have unintended consequences. I hope that in conference this language can be clarified to focus on the achievement of outcomes through the development of a sound remedial plan, overseen by the Department of Education. Many of us have expressed concern over the cumbersome litigation sometimes associated with IDEA. This language could make the status quo worse-tying up critical personnel and diverting scarce resources, without ensuring positive outcomes.

Mr. McCAIN. I have also heard substantial concern from groups in Arizona regarding language that may compel states to pay for lawsuits against State or local education entities. I know these concerns also have been expressed to my colleague from Arizona.

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