Advocating for children and adults with disabilities, this blog began during the 2008 presidential campaign to track the candidates' positions and records. Citizen advocacy for people with disabilities and their families is critical, and not just during election seasons. Don't let your elected officials play politics with your children and loved ones. They deserve better.
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Education Secretary Nominee on Special Education Rights (with full video)
Yesterday, we were introduced to Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education. In her hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, she seemed unaware that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is 1) a federal law and that 2) it protects the rights of all students in schools that accept federal funding. When asked by Senator Tim Kaine if all K-12 schools should be required to meet the requirements of the IDEA, she responded, "I think that is a matter better left to the states."
When Senator Maggie Hassan, who has a son with special needs, expressed concern that Ms. DeVos seemed unfamiliar with the federal legislation passed in 1990, Ms. DeVos said she'd be "sensitive" to the needs of special needs students. Senator Hassan replied: "With all due respect, it is not about sensitivity, although that helps. It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality public education. And the reality is, the way the voucher systems that you supported work don’t always come out that way." Watch the full hearing.
Sen. Kaine: Let me move to my next question. Should all K-12 schools receiving governmental funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? Ms. DeVos: I think they already are. Sen. Kaine: But I’m asking you a should question. Whether they are or not we’ll get into that later. Should all schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? Ms. DeVos: I think that is a matter better left to the states. Sen. Kaine: So some states might be good to students with disabilities, other state might not be so good, and then what? People can move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated? Ms. DeVos: I think that is an issue best left to the states. Sen. Kaine: What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding, should they be required to follow federal law? Whether they’re public, public charter, or private? Ms. DeVos: As the Senator referred to – the Florida program, there are many parents who are happy with the program there. Sen. Kaine: Let me say this, I think all schools that receive federal funding, public charter, or public, should be required to follow the individuals with disabilities and education act. Do you agree with me? Ms. DeVos: I think that is worth a discussion. Sen. Kaine: So you cannot agree with me. And finally, should all K-12 schools receiving government funding be required to report the same information in instances of harassment and bullying? If they receive federal funding. Ms. DeVos: I think that federal funding certainly comes with strings attached. Sen. Kaine: I think all such schools should be required to report, equally, information about discipline, harassment, and bullying. Do you agree with me or not? Ms. DeVos: I would look forward to reviewing that provision. Sen. Kaine: If it was a court I would say let the judges direct the witness to answer the question. It’s not a court, you’re not under oath, not under subpoena, but you are trying to win my vote. Sen. Hassan: The other thing I just wanted to circle back to – I want to go back to the individuals with disabilities and education act. That’s a federal civil rights law. So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up to the states whether to follow it? Ms. DeVos: Federal law must be followed where federal dollars are in play. Sen. Hassan: So were you unaware when i just asked you about the idea that it is a federal law?Ms. DeVos: I may have confused it. Sen. Hassan: It guarantees absolutely basic protections to students with disabilities to ensure they are given a high-quality education with their peers. One reason it is difficult to have this hearing and feel that we fully understand your perspective is because we do know that children with disabilities – at least in some of the voucher programs that you have supported – have gone with a voucher to their school because of their disability, they have to leave the school, the school keeps the money, and they go back to public schools, that now have even less resources for them. Many of us see this as the potential for turning our public schools into warehouses for the most challenging kids with disabilities, or the kids whose parents cannot afford to make up the difference between the voucher and the cost of private school tuition. I would urge you to become familiar, should you be nominated, with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And I do have to say I’m concerned that you seem so unfamiliar with it, and that you seem to support vouchers schools that have not honored, that have made students sign away their rights to make sure that that the law is enforced. That is very troubling to me. Ms. DeVos: Senator I assure you, if confirmed, I will be very sensitive to the needs of special needs students and the policies surrounding that. Sen. Hassan: With all due respect, it is not about sensitivity, although that helps. It’s about being willing to enforce the law to make sure that my child and every child has the same access to public education, high quality public education. And the reality is, the way the voucher systems that you supported work don’t always come out that way. And that’s why it is something we need to continue to explore.