Saturday, May 30, 2009

Secretary Duncan: 4,720 Words, But No "Special Ed"

If you want to know Education Secretary Arne Duncan's thoughts about education, read the extensive speech he gave yesterday at the National Press Club. (Read transcript from Congressional Quarterly or watch video.) If you want to know his thoughts about special education, you'll have to look somewhere else.

In a speech intended to highlight the administration's education priorities, his 4,720 words did not include "special education," "special needs," "disabilities," or the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." That seems odd to me, but it's in line with criticism he received from disability advocates when President Obama nominated him. As I reported on Feb. 10, one Chicago advocate said: "He’s not been a great supporter of special ed. I don’t think he dislikes special-needs kids; it just wasn’t on his radar screen during the time he was here."

And yesterday, the only time he mentioned special ed was in response to a question:

"MODERATOR: Why did the FY 2010 budget request $1.5 billion less than appropriated in fiscal year 2009 for the Title I basic grants? Do you intend to curtail or end the basic grants program? Why or why not?

"DUNCAN: We did two things strategically. One, is in the stimulus package, as you know, there was north of $10 billion in new Title I money that came in, so unprecedented money for Title I, unprecedented money for IDEA, for children with special needs. What we actually are doing is we’re beefing up significantly the Title I school improvement grants. We shifted resources there. And that was a strategic decision."

Kudos to the administration for recognizing special ed as a priority in its budget decisions, but the education secretary also has a responsibility to be a spokesperson and advocate for students with special needs. Being a spokesperson means talking about it -- like when you give a 4,720-word speech about your priorities.
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