House and Senate Pass Education Bill – What Does This Mean for Autism?

Discipline Amendment Quashed
IDEA Funding Increased, But Not Fully Funded
[From the Autism Society of America, December 27, 2001]

The U.S. Congress gave final approval recently to education
legislation that would set new standards for accountability at the state
level and ensure more help for needy students and low-performing schools.
The bill (H.R.1) authorized $26.5 billion in federal spending on elementary
and secondary education for fiscal year 2002, $4 billion more than President
Bush requested and $8 billion more than last year’s spending level.
Congress is expected to provide roughly $22 of the $26.5 billion amount that was

H.R.1, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, is an
updated version of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
The bill, which passed by large margins in both the House and the Senate, is
expected to be signed by the President. While the bill primarily addresses
the issue of accountability in schools and help for needy students,
elements of the bill and discussion on the Hill also touched on issues related to
autism and the disability community.

Discipline Amendment Quashed
When the House passed H.R.1 on December 17, amendments by Senator
Jeff Sessions and Representative Charlie Norwood were omitted. An effort to
toughen discipline for special education students in public schools
failed, but we expect the issue to reappear next year during the debate on the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Senate conferees in
both cases killed the Sessions and Norwood amendments in conference committee.

The amendments would have eliminated the provision that schools had
to provide education in an alternative setting for those children who had
been removed from the mainstream for discipline reasons. The discipline issue
has been of great concern to the ASA and the autism community because of its
potential implications regarding behavioral problems of some children with

“While ASA certainly supports discipline in the classroom, we are
concerned that a lack of sufficient training in the awareness of the needs
of children with autism and how to deal with them. That lack of training
poses too great a potential for children with autism to be categorized as
discipline problems when they are not,” Robert Beck, executive director of
the ASA, said. “In addition, if a child with autism was removed from the
classroom, an appropriate, alternative educational setting must be found
for them.”

IDEA Funding Increased, But Not Fully Funded
Another issue that was hotly debated was IDEA funding. One of the
amendments under consideration was mandatory full federal funding of IDEA
that would have required the federal government to reimburse schools 40
percent for special education programs, as stated by law.

During the House-Senate conference on the bill, Senator Tom Harkin
(D-IA), who has been a strong proponent of fully funding IDEA, offered a
modified amendment that would have put off any spending increases until
2003 or until after the reauthorization of IDEA. However, House conferees
rejected Sen. Harkin’s proposal and full funding of IDEA is not included
in the final version of HR 1.

Despite the lack of consensus on the full funding amendment,
conferees did provide an increase of $2.7 billion from the $5.0 billion provided two
years ago – a $375 million increase over the Bush budget. Over a two-year
period, the funds will raise the federal share toward special education
costs from 12 to 18 percent.

“ASA, although disappointed with the decision on full funding, will
continue to advocate, along with the Consortium for Citizens with
Disabilities, to fully fund IDEA during the reauthorization next year,”
ASA President Lee Grossman said.

“We at ASA appreciate the efforts of several members of Congress to
make good on the promise to schools for the funding of special education
programs,” Grossman added. “We are proud of Sen. Jim Jeffords.

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