Federal Policy Updates March 2017

s By: Kelly Vaillancourt Strobach, PhD, NASP Director, Government Relations

It has been a busy few weeks and the action shows no signs of slowing down!  It is important for school psychologists to remain informed of policy conversations that impact the students we work with, and the schools we serve.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Special Education Student On March 22nd, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. In short, the court ruled that schools must do more than provide "a merely more than de minimis" education program to a student with a disability. The ruling affirms that IDEA requires an educational program that enables a child to make progress that is appropriate given his/her individual circumstances.  At this point, it is unclear exactly what impact this will have on schools, teachers, IEP teams and school psychologists.  According to some analysis by Perry Zirkel, this ruling could result in an increased focus on student progress and perhaps an increase in litigation.  NASP will continue to monitor the analysis of this ruling, and any potential impact it could have for school psychologists.

Federal Investments in Education Over the next few weeks Congress will tackle federal spending bills, which include funds for ESSA implementation, mental and behavioral health care efforts, school improvement initiatives, and a host of other services that students, families, and communities rely on.  School psychologists have been tremendous advocates and your voice will be incredibly important as we work to ensure that all children thrive at school, at home, and throughout life.  President Trump has released his budget for FY 2018, and he proposes a $9 billion cut, or approximately 13%, from programs operated by the Department of Education.  At the same time, President Trump seeks $1.4 billion dollars to invest in a federal school choice program, including funding for private school vouchers. (NASP recently passed a resolution opposing such efforts). These proposed cuts include programs offer high quality professional development to teachers and other personnel, after school and extended learning programs, literacy development.   ESSA consolidated a number of small competitive grants, including the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program, into a large, formula funded block grant (The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant, also known as Title IV Part A).  This grant, as authorized, would provide states and districts with a meaning amount of money that would allow them to make meaningful investments in efforts to improve school climate and safety, student mental and behavioral health, provide access to a well-rounded education, among other things.  President Trump has indicated he wants to cut, or eliminate funds for this grant, while some members of Congress have indicated funding for this program is a priority.  Since Congress makes the funding decisions, NASP has been working hard with our coalition partners to secure this critical funding stream that would benefit schools and districts around the country.  We need your help!  Contact your member of Congress using our Advocacy Action Center and urge them to support funding for Title-IV Part A.   

School Based Medicaid- Saved! Over the last few weeks, Congress debated the American Health Care Act, which would have made significant changes to our health care system, but specifically would have changed the structure of Medicaid for low income children and children with disabilities.  Medicaid, specifically school based Medicaid services, is a cost-effective and efficient way to ensure that kids have access to the comprehensive health care they need in order to be successful.  In many places across the country, schools have become the de facto provider of these critical services to kids.  The proposed changes could have resulted in fewer health care services available for children, job loss for critical school personnel, fewer mental health supports, possible cuts to general education, and increased potential non-compliance with IDEA mandates.   However, thanks to your advocacy, and the advocacy of a wide range of stakeholders, the bill was pulled from the floor. At this time it is unclear if Congress will attempt to overhaul health care or Medicaid in the near future.  See this fact sheet for more information about the importance of school based Medicaid.

ESSA Implementation The first deadline for states to submit state plans is April 3rd and 17 states, plus the District of Columbia plan to submit their plans for review by this deadline.  The rest will submit their plans by September.  NASP recently met with a diverse group of stakeholders, including the Council for State Chief School Officers, National PTA, NEA, AFT, The National Governor's Association, and groups representing school administrators to discuss the importance of stakeholder engagement.  It is critical that school psychologists be engaged in discussion about ESSA implementation at the state level, but also at the district level.  The real implementation of the law will happen district by district, and school psychologists should begin reaching out to district level superintendents, other policy makers, school principals, and parents to ensure that you are involved in the plans to improve school and student success.  NASP, in collaboration with our allied partners, will be sharing more information about how to effectively engage in district level engagement in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, visit www.nasponline.org/ESSA for a wealth of information about ESSA and why it is important to school psychology.