Last week, the Center shared our key education policy recommendations with the Biden transition team. Read on for the full letter.
Date: December 8, 2020
To: Biden Education Transition Team
RE: Transition Priorities: Education
The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (the Center) is a young national nonprofit organization committed to ensuring that students with disabilities can access and thrive in charter schools. The Center is a leader and partner with civil rights and special education advocates, charter school authorizers, charter networks, and charter schools and the leading national voice regarding educating students with disabilities in the charter sector. We are focused on ensuring equity and a high-quality education for the 300,000+ students with disabilities that attend school in one of the 7,000 public charter schools across 43 states and the District of Columbia. At the same time, we are equally committed to supporting access to high-quality education for all students with disabilities, regardless of whether they are enrolled in a traditional district school or a public charter school.
Our research, program, and policy work is grounded in equity for all children, including students with disabilities, and encompasses priorities essential to protecting and promoting students’ access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as well as the core tenets of accountability as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We look forward to working closely with the Biden Administration and see great opportunity in the joint priorities we share regarding educators, school resources, student-centered supports, and federal investments that lead to every child having access to a high-quality education. Below are the recommendations we believe are critical to ensuring that students with disabilities can thrive in school.
- Support Students and Schools During the COVID-19 Emergency
States, districts, and schools must continue to meet their IDEA obligations during the COVID-19 emergency and the subsequent recovery period. This includes providing FAPE to students with disabilities and ensuring that parents have the right to be involved in all educational decisions. IDEA waivers are not necessary, and we believe would be damaging immediately and in the long term. We continue to support House, Senate, and Administrative actions that have upheld this commitment to IDEA. Most recently, we joined civil rights and disability organizations in supporting the U.S. Department of Education Frequently Asked Questions Impact of COVID-19 on Accountability Systems Required under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA).
To ensure equity continues to be present during this unprecedented emergency, we request that the Biden Administration quickly:
- Invest an additional $175 billion in general education and provide a one-time appropriation to IDEA of $12.5 billion. These additional emergency funds are needed to ensure schools have sufficient funding to maintain the teacher workforce, to operate safe and healthy environments, to provide high-quality teaching and learning, and to provide a free and appropriate public education to students with disabilities.
- Issue guidance to help states and districts address learning losses, including guidance on how to plan for compensatory education as needed, so that students can recoup instructional time lost during shutdown periods and so that states have the necessary statutory flexibility to expand educational options that address the learning loss.
- Provide technical assistance including tools and resources clarifying that civil rights protections for students apply during COVID-19. States and districts must also be encouraged to thoroughly review and seek to end discriminatory discipline policies unique to COVID educational scenarios that disproportionately and negatively impact students with disabilities and students of color (e.g. bullying, harassment, suspension, expulsion, seclusion, and restraint).
- Provide technical assistance to schools and districts to support teachers, related services personnel, and school leaders challenged by COVID to support their efforts to provide remote learning to students with disabilities and to other marginalized students.
- Focus on Equity
The Biden Administration must commit to full implementation of the IDEA and to supporting states, districts, and schools as they rise to the challenge of putting equity at the forefront of decision-making and planning. The Center has developed the Principles of Equitable Schools to help schools determine how they measure up against these principles.
To ensure equity is at the heart of every policy decision and action and to support states and districts, the Biden Administration must:
- Move swiftly towards full funding of IDEA. To date, the federal government has failed to invest in IDEA at the levels needed. Since 2009, the average federal share per child for early intervention, preschool, and K-12 education has remained stagnant, while the number of children served and the national average per-pupil expenditure has continued to rise. The result is a declining federal contribution to the cost of educating students with disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the need for more funding.
- Reissue the 2014 Non-Discriminatory Administration of Schoolwide Discipline guidance- with updates supportive of current research and best practices, including those specific to students with disabilities.
- Provide technical assistance so states and districts can fully Implement the Equity in IDEA regulations, which address significant disproportionality in the identification, placement, and disciplinary decisions impacting students with disabilities.
- Reissue the 2016 Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Case Processing Manual to restore and protect the complaint and appeals process for families and to ensure that case officers can investigate systemic issues triggered during individual case reviews.
- Re-engage in promotion and meaningful technical assistance activities supporting the implementation of the December 2016 guidance on special education and charter schools. This should include training and activities targeted at SEAs responsible for charter schools and special education quality and oversight, traditional LEAs responsible for providing special education services to charter schools, and charter school LEAs that are required to provide special education services.
III. Promote and Support Accountability in All Schools, Including Charter Schools
Since our founding in 2013, the Center has advocated for and supported state, district, and school accountability for student outcomes. We play a vital role in the charter sector and with disability and civil rights allies in promoting meaningful accountability as an essential component of ensuring that schools and educators have the necessary resources to provide effective instruction and interventions. Our support for ESEA accountability extends to the charter school provisions of the law, which distinctly require states to improve upon the recruitment, admission, and retention of students with disabilities in charter schools.
To reinforce and support accountability for students with disabilities at state, district, and school levels, we urge the Biden Administration to:
- Call upon states to implement federal equity guardrails established under the ESEA while allowing time-limited flexibility, where necessary, for states to adapt accountability systems due to COVID-19.
- Initiate technical assistance activities, with specific resources, for the monitoring and oversight of virtual public schools. This assistance should be targeted to a variety of oversight actors, including SEAs, charter school authorizers, and local school boards, especially as it relates to improving access and services for students with disabilities.
- Create priorities in the federal Charter School Program for charter schools and other organizations that advance high-quality education at public charter schools for students with disabilities through services, research, and dissemination, or quality oversight. This should extend to each of the six competitive grant programs within the Charter School Program.
- Implement the evaluation of state entity Charter School Program (CSP) grants as required by ESEA, including the component evaluation on how state technical assistance is supporting students with disabilities (required by Congress, via House Report 116-62, incorporated into Public Law 116-94, FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act). As feasible, the results of such evaluation should be made available to the public.
- Invest In and Support Quality Data Collection and Reporting
The Center is committed to using verifiable and credible data as the basis for the policy initiatives we undertake. For example, our work to examine the experiences of children with disabilities in schools as collected in the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) is unprecedented, and we hope to partner with the Biden Administration to strengthen the CRDC, EDFacts, and other data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
To ensure quality data collection and reporting with appropriate analysis to direct and target resources and further inform policy, the Biden Administration must:
- Restore CRDC data collection items (rescinded by the Trump Administration) and include items essential to understanding the status of students eligible under 504 and/or the IDEA as well as items focused on graduation/exit status, school finance, teacher hiring, discipline, student access to Advanced Placement courses and more. (The Center has made these recommendations to the Trump Administration in November 2019 and in August 2020.)
- Improve compliance and monitoring of states in implementation of the IDEA, including the Results Driven Accountability process designed to inform Annual State Ratings as required by the law.
- Implement/maintain availability of the EDFacts data on for-profit EMOs/CMOs, charter school structures, and affiliations, and charter school authorizers to inform future policy decisions and recommendations impacting charter networks and charter school oversight. This data platform should be made compatible with other federal data sources (such as CRDC and NCES) to provide a robust network of data on charter schools.
- Examine the fidelity of SEA and LEA data reporting under the CRDC and develop protocols to promote the fidelity of data reporting from all required entities.
We appreciate this opportunity to share our priorities and look forward to working with the Biden Administration. Please contact Wendy Tucker, Sr. Policy Director with any questions.