Public education for all is a cornerstone of our democracy and is the mechanism by which this nation prepares all students to pursue the benefits of freedom and to exercise fully their rights and responsibilities. The U.S. Department of Education has played a critical role in ensuring access, equity,​ inclusion,​ and opportunity for all students — including students with disabilities — through their oversight, guidance, monitoring, and technical assistance. Research shows that students with significant disabilities can be fully included in classrooms with qualified staff​, ​peer supports​, and appropriate accommodations.​

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities not only have the right to attend public schools, but receive a free and appropriate public education​ (FAPE)​, have access to the general education curriculum, and receive a meaningful education in the least restrictive environment ​(LRE) ​that prepares them for postsecondary education or a career. Similarly, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (formerly known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)), recognizes that our education system must ensure that all children have access to a high quality, standards-based education​, and holds schools accountable for the progress of all students, ​​including students with disabilities. ​​     ​

Education Policy Priorities for the 118th Congress
  • Ensure non-discrimination in special education in order to avoid inappropriate over- or under-identification of disability and the overuse of segregated settings or disciplinary actions​, particularly for students of color;​ ​     ​
  • ​​Ensure that civil rights data collection in schools includes students with disabilities placed by districts in private schools;​     ​​
  • ​​​Ensure adequate funds are allocated to conduct research and the development and implementation of evidence-based practices from early intervention through postsecondary education to support learning of students with disabilities;​​
  • ​​​Provide accessible and comprehensive sexual education for all students with ​​disabilities​​ ​​including​​ sexual behavior, adult relationships​​, ​​safe sexual choices​​, and information to make informed choices about reproductive health care
  • Ensure special education course-work and practicum experiences for all general education candidates to receive full teaching licensure and certification so that all educators and staff are prepared to serve and support diverse learners in inclusive settings;
  • Ensure that teacher preparation programs include introduction to positive behavioral supports;
  • ​​Ensure that school infrastructure is accessible to all; and
  • ​Ensure a healthy school environment by ensuring that schools are free of lead and other harmful substances.​​​​​​
Discipline, Restraint, Seclusion, and Aversive Interventions
  • Prohibit harmful disciplinary practices such as unwarranted suspensions, expulsions,​ informal removals,​ and referrals to the juvenile justice system and require schools to work to de-escalate minor school infractions rather than call for police department assistance;​​​
  • Oppose federal funding targeted to states, districts and/or schools to support the hiring of law enforcement, including school resource officers;
  • Support funding for the training of mental health professionals and school personnel to support mental health crisis intervention systems to meet the needs of all students including for students with IDD. If police or school resource officers (SROs) are used in schools, require that they be trained in positive behavioral supports and are prohibited from disciplining students;
  • ​​​Oppose federal funding and policy that supports school or district practices that utilize violence risk assessments or threat assessments;​     ​     ​​
  • Address the over-representation of students with disabilities​, particularly students of color with disabilities,​ in the school to prison pipeline, and support appropriate services and successful reentry to community schools;
  • Prohibit corporal punishment; chemical, mechanical, and physical​ restraints​​​, seclusion, or other interventions that compromise student health and safety. ​​Ensure that parents are notified of all incidents of discipline, restraint, and/or seclusion on the same day;
  • Provide funding and require school personnel to be trained in positive behavioral supports, and ​trauma-informed​​​ ​de-escalation and​; and
  • Ensure that measures intended to protect the safety of students and school personnel do not violate due process, civil liberties, and the right to reasonable accommodations, or result in profiling of students based on disability or other status.
Early Childhood, Early Intervention, and Preschool Programs
  • Mandate the availability of early intervention programs under IDEA (Part C);
  • ​​Increase funding for early intervention and preschool programs;​​​
  • ​​Ensure children with disabilities have access to inclusive child care programs, and are not discriminated against because of their disabilities; ​​​
  • Enhance the development, implementation, and execution of Child Find Programs and other related resources to ensure early detection and early access to services;
  • Ensure that young children with disabilities receive early intervention services in their natural environments, including​ child care and​ preschool programs;
  • ​​Ensure coverage of technology needs (including Internet access) in the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP), as appropriate; ​​​
  • ​​Provide training for children, families, and educational staff to implement and adopt assistive technology; ​and
  • Ensure access to inclusive opportunities for early childhood education, including funding for the Child Care Block Grant.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Protect and enhance the guarantee of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE);
  • Fully fund all components of IDEA and provide increased funding for Part C, Head Start, and other early intervention programs;
  • Ensure that school choice initiatives including public charter schools, vouchers, and voucher-like programs (including but not limited to traditional vouchers, education savings accounts, tuition tax credits/scholarships, or microgrants) comply with IDEA as well as the accountability provisions under ESSA and do not adversely affect public education by diverting public funds to private schools or reducing revenue through preferential tax treatment;
  • Align the age of transition services to be consistent with the pre-vocational provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014;
  • Strengthen transition from school to adult life by requiring schools to coordinate with state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies in the implementation of transition individualized education program (IEP) requirements and WIOA provisions;
  • Ensure appropriate​ and standards-aligned ​assessments for all students with disabilities by developing universally designed assessments that accurately measure the progress of students with disabilities;
  • Ensure appropriate early intervention services and culturally competent assessments to prevent inappropriate classifications;
  • Promote universal design for learning guidelines in curriculum and in educational practices so that instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments incorporate flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs;
  • Expand the design and use of assistive technology as appropriate for all students, including ensuring coverage of technology needs (including internet access and devices) in the IEP, and ensuring portability to the home and community and beyond the school years, as appropriate;
  • Amend IDEA’s due process provision to place the burden of proof on school systems rather than parents;
  • Amend IDEA to allow courts to reimburse parents’ or guardians’ expert witness fees incurred as part of the due process proceedings;
  • Amend IDEA to provide more emphasis on teaching self-advocacy skills and encourage greater student involvement in the IEP process;
  • Ensure monitoring and enforcement of the major components of IDEA, including LRE, due process, transition, cultural competence, and individualized IEPs, are properly and fully implemented, and ensure authorized penalties for non-compliance are enforced;
  • ​​Ensure students involved in the criminal legal system are afforded their full rights ​​​under IDEA; ​​​     ​
  • ​​Amend IDEA’s IEP provision (614(d)) to ensure that, in the case of a child of any age who does not yet have a symbolic mode of communication (oral language, augmentative communication system, and/or manual signs) which they use fluently over a full range of communicative functions, a funded plan for developing a robust communication system for that child becomes a part of the IEP to include multiple use technologies, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; ​​​
  • ​​Ensure an IEP includes provisions for emergency management, including processes and systems for all school emergency drills;​​     ​
  • Amend IDEA to provide better portability of federally guaranteed services and promote stability in the implementation of IEPs; and
  • Require states to accurately report the numbers of students served by IDEA, by disability category, who graduate with a regular high school diploma.
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
  • Ensure full implementation of ESSA through appropriate funding, enforcement, and monitoring of all provisions, including:
    • Full participation of students with disabilities in assessment, accountability systems, and reporting systems, including transparency about school performance for students with disabilities in state and local education agencies (LEAs) report cards;
    • Require assessments that are aligned with the challenging state academic standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled;
    • Appropriate justification for State Education Agencies (SEAs) to exceed the 1% cap on the number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take an alternate assessment aligned with alternate academic achievement standards; and
    • Funding and full implementation of the early childhood provisions.
Postsecondary Education
  • Fully fund disability provisions in Title VII of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), including the Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities and Coordinating Center, National Technical Assistance Centers, and Programs to Provide Students with Disabilities with a Quality Higher Education;
  • Ensure students with disabilities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have access to all forms of federal financial aid;
  • Ensure that all students with disabilities have access to academic courses and the full range of campus programs and activities, including integrated housing;
  • Require colleges to accept a student’s relevant formal documentation of disability from high school when seeking accommodations so students are not required to undergo new costly evaluation to re-prove existence of a disability;
  • Ensure that information is made publicly available on the types of support services offered to help students and their families in selecting a school;
  • ​​Ensure proper implementation of provisions of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act on career and technical education regarding greater inclusion and access for students with disabilities; and​
  • ​​Ensure that student loan discharge and forgiveness programs are functional and easily accessible for people with disabilities. ​​
  • Expand and improve in-service and pre-service personnel preparation under Part D of IDEA, ESSA, and the HEOA to address the growing special education workforce crisis;
  • Ensure that teacher preparation programs build a ​diverse, ​competent workforce of teachers equipped to instruct diverse learners;
  • Develop programs to expand the pool of undergraduates majoring in education who are prepared to educate all students in their classroom including students with disabilities; and Include the recruitment and retention of teachers with disabilities as part of any federal diversity initiatives.
  • Ensure greater accessibility and availability of apprenticeship programs for people with disabilities, provided they are time-limited and comply with the federal definition of competitive integrated employment. ​​​