Capitol Hill Beat

Published June 1, 2002

Extensive Special Education Hearings Begin

On April 18, the House Subcommittee on Education Reform held its first hearing pertaining to the scheduled 2002 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hearing examined the topic, “Special Education Finance at the Federal, State and Local Level.”

Chaired by Representative Michael Castle (R-Delaware), the session included witnesses who addressed how federal dollars are currently distributed to state and local districts. This was to be the first of several hearings on special education reform.

Castle set the stage for reform earlier this year, when he told an audience of state legislators, “We need to focus on achievement—not just compliance. While parents can receive a due process hearing if their child does not receive services, they have little recourse if he or she isn’t meeting his or her education goals.”

The Senate Education Committee’s first IDEA hearing was scheduled for April 25.

Meanwhile, the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education continued to hold field hearings in cities around the country to examine different aspects of special education. The Commission met in Houston in late February to discuss a range of reform issues, and also visited Houston public schools.

On April 16, the Commission met in New York City to address minority over-identification and misidentification in special education programs. Also discussed was the rising number of children classified as disabled as a result of being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The Commission noted the number of such students has increased more than 300 percent over the past few years alone. (See “Almost 1 in 8 Students Labeled ‘Disabled,'” School Reform News, March 2002.)

Reynolds a Recess Appointment

In a surprise announcement on March 29, President George W. Bush announced five new appointments, including naming Gerald Reynolds as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. The “recess appointments” were timed while Congress was out of session, a procedure allowing the nominees to circumvent the usual Senate confirmation process.

In Reynolds’ case, a hearing had been held before the Senate Education Committee on February 26, some six months after the President had initially named Reynolds for the post, but it remained unclear when Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) would schedule a vote.

At the February hearing, Kennedy repeatedly raised questions over Reynolds’ qualifications for the post. The nominee had provoked controversy within the civil rights community, largely because he was perceived as an opponent of racial preferences in such areas as college admissions and government contracting. Reynolds had most recently served as regulatory counsel for Kansas City Power and Light; he also held prior positions with the Center for New Black Leadership and the Center for Equal Opportunity.

Hearing Urges Tax Credits

At an April 17 hearing of the House Education Committee, panelists urged Congress to pursue education tax credits aimed at helping low-income families.

A school choice highlight of President Bush’s FY 2003 budget is a new refundable tax credit for parents transferring a child out of a failing public school. Parents would receive a credit against their federal taxes of up to 50 percent of the first $5,000 in tuition, fees, and transportation costs incurred to transfer their child to a private school.

“Education tax credits open new avenues of support for all of our schools—both public and private,” Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Michigan) told the panel. Witnesses testifying in favor of the proposal included Lawrence Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“No Child Left Behind” Goes on Tour

Education Secretary Rod Paige took to the road April 8, commencing a scheduled 25-city tour to promote the No Child Left Behind Act. At a downtown rally at his first stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Paige reiterated the administration’s commitment to ensure that every child will be able to read by the time they finish the third grade.

“It means that every American must take a stand to get involved for and change the culture and expectations we have for every school,” Paige told his audience.

While state policymakers develop their strategies to implement the new law, the Department of Education announced in early April that for the first time, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have achieved compliance with the assessment requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1994. Only 22 states had met this requirement or had a formal plan for achieving it when Paige took office.

On the eve of the April 8 deadline for compliance, only 18 states had received full approval for their assessment systems, another 29 had only a formal plan and timeline, and five were operating under compliance agreements.

“Eight years after enactment, that’s a miserable record that bodes ill for the implementation of ‘No Child Left Behind,'” observed Thomas B. Fordham Foundation President Chester E. Finn Jr. An April 2002 report from the General Accounting Office also warned that “the majority of states may not be well-positioned to meet the requirements added in 2001.”

Don Soifer is executive vice president of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Virginia. His email address is [email protected].