Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The new IDEA bill

Today, a bipartisan bill to update the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) passed the committee phase easily. It is expected to pass in both the House and the Senate and be signed by the President before the end of the lame-duck session. It's the Act's first update since 1997. There are over 6 million children with disabilities in America's public schools.

Every member of the committees approved the bill -- except one. Jim Jeffords voted against it, according to the AP. I looked at Jeffords' web site and there was no explanation posted today. But there was a statement by Jeffords from an earlier "no" vote on IDEA.

I voted against this bill because Congress has again reneged on a promise it made nearly 30 years ago to pay its fair share to educate children with disabilites. In 1975, Congress agreed the federal government would pay 40 percent of the additional costs. Today, the federal government does not even cover 20 percent. It is the worst example of an unfunded mandate, and the burden will again be passed on to our local schools and property tax payers.

As it did with the No Child Left Behind Act, Congress is making hollow promises. We know from past experience that these funds must be mandatory, and in this bill they are not. There has been much talk about holding schools accountable, but it is time for Congress to hold itself accountable. It is time to pay our fair share.

I'm assuming that he voted against it today for the same reason. The bill does call for the federal government to provide 40% of funding by 2011; my guess is that that wasn't soon enough for Jeffords. I'll be interested to see his statement on this tomorrow.

A group of parent activists have been very vocal in their opposition to the bill, even wearing black armbands today in protest. I will be researching this bill -- and the opposition to it -- as it moves through the House and Senate on its way to the President's desk.


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