(Washington, D.C.) – Senate HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) today continued to urge Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to reverse course on any action to undermine rights for students of color and students with disabilities by rolling back protections issued by the Obama Administration to address disparities in special education and disciplinary practices.
“There can be no further question: Secretary DeVos is dead set on rolling back all the progress we’ve made for our children of color and students with disabilities.” said Murray .“If Secretary DeVos indeed moves forward with this action, she will be pushing IDEA’s promise of educational equity further out of reach, worsening the school to prison pipeline, and so much more—with students of all ages and backgrounds paying the price.”
“Now that may very well be Secretary DeVos’ intention, but let me be as clear as I can be, it’s certainly not what parents or teachers want, it’s not what independent analysis has recommended, or what our students deserve. I will continue to do everything in my power to push back against this and every action by Secretary DeVos and the entire Trump Administration to hurt out students.”
African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native students are more likely than their peers to be in special education classes, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. In 2013, GAO found that over-representation in special education, “may be a consequence of several factors such as poverty, factors within the school environment, such as cultural bias, or some combination of these elements.” Students in special education classes are more likely to be suspended and expelled from school, and researchers have found that these punishment tactics can feed the “school to prison pipeline,” which takes students out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system.
First enacted in 1975, IDEA is the federal law that supports the unique educational needs of students with disabilities. To address the persistent problem of certain racial and ethnic groups being over- and under-represented in special education, in the last reauthorizations of IDEA in 1997 and 2004, Congress required states to annually report to the U.S. Department of Education significant disproportionality of racial and ethnic groups in special education based on disciplinary practices, identification for special education, and placement in particular educational settings. Congress also required states to review and revise policies, practices, and procedures for identifying school districts with significant disproportionality.
Under IDEA, a school district with significant disproportionality is required to reserve 15 percent of its IDEA Part B funds for comprehensive early intervening services, such as professional development for teachers and other school staff, multi-tier system of supports, or educational and behavioral evaluations, services, and supports. However, GAO’s performance audit found “the discretion that states have in defining significant disproportionality has resulted in a wide range of definitions that provides no assurance that the problem is being appropriately identified across the nation,” and recommended “the Secretary of Education develop a standard approach for defining significant disproportionality to be used by all states.”