Policy Matters Blog

What to Expect in the 116th Congress

The 116th Congress is underway and we are beginning to learn some of the key education, mental health, and school safety related issues the House and Senate will tackle over the next two years. NASP is already reaching out to new members of Congress to introduce them to NASP and the value of school psychologists. In addition, we are working with returning members of Congress to remind them of our Public Policy and Legislative Platform, offer ideas for new legislation, and help them make connections with their NASP constituents.    As we have often stated, it is important for individual school psychologists to develop relationships with their elected officials.  There are many new faces on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee as well as the House Committee on Education and Labor. I encourage you to see if you have representatives on these committees and reach out to them and offer to be a resource.  If you need help finding contact information for these offices, please reach out to me (kvaillancourt@naspweb.org) and I will help connect you.

Federal Investments in Public Education

This could be a difficult year for federal education funding.  Under current law, unless a new budget agreement is reached and passed into law, there will be a $55 billion dollar (9%) cut to non-defense discretionary spending. This large pot of money includes funding for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture all of which fund key programs in our nation's schools. The current climate on Capitol Hill could make negotiations difficult.  The Federal Government is newly re-opened after the longest partial shutdown in history, which has significantly pushed back the timeline for completing FY19 appropriations for many federal agencies, and the shutdown halted all work on the Administration's proposed FY2020 budget, which generally kicks off negotiations about spending for the upcoming fiscal year.  If Congress doesn't raise the spending caps, or agree to spending levels significantly lower than current levels, then an across the board cut to all non-defense discretionary programs will happen (this is also known as sequestration).  In short, we could see steep cuts to programs that our schools, and our students, rely on (e.g. Title I, IDEA, Title IV-A, SNAP, after school programming etc.). NASP is closely monitoring the situation and urge all of you to act when necessary.    

Higher Education Act

Both the House and the Senate have expressed sincere interest in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. Congress has been working on this issue for several years and it is unclear if a new reauthorization will pass the finish line.  This was a heavy lift when the Republicans, who share similar ideas about the role of the federal government in higher education, controlled both chambers of Congress.  Now that the Democrats control the House, it may prove even more difficult to reach a compromise that both sides can live with. HEA governs issues related to federal financial aid, accreditation, and teacher preparation.  NASP is committed to protecting loan forgiveness options for school psychologists, protecting grants that help train high quality general and special education teachers to work in high needs areas, and expanding opportunities and funding available to help recruit and retain school psychologists. Keep your eyes on this blog and other NASP communication for key updates and opportunities to weigh in.

School Safety We are approaching the first anniversary of the Parkland shooting as well as the 20th anniversary of Columbine and we expect to see a slew of school safety related information, both good and bad, work its way through Congress this session. In December, the Federal Commission on School Safety released its final report and it is unclear which, if any recommendations Congress will consider. However, based the priorities of new and returning members of Congress we expect to see this legislation cover a wide range of issues including:

  • Arming teachers and other school personnel
  • Increasing access to school resource officers and other school based law enforcement
  • Increasing information sharing between schools and law enforcement
  • Crisis preparedness and emergency response plans
  • Bullying, including cyberbullying and the role of social media in school violence
  • Appropriate training/professional development for school and community personnel
  • Active shooter drills
  • Threat assessment
  • Anonymous reporting systems

NASP is working closely with our organizational co-authors of the Framework for Safe and Successful Schools to ensure that school safety legislation is enacted in line with the guiding principles articulated in this document.

Increasing Access to School Mental Health Services and Professionals

In addition to the school safety related legislation mentioned above, there is significant interest in increasing access to comprehensive school mental health services as well as school employed mental health professionals like school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers.  Following the tragedy at Parkland, significant attention was paid to the severe shortage of school psychologists across the country. We have seen both state and federal lawmakers propose various solutions to addressing this issue. NASP is hoping to work with federal agencies and members of Congress to address the important need for:

  • Consistent federal data collection of the number of school psychologists in each state
  • Improving the pipeline of school psychology graduates to high needs districts
  • Supporting state/district efforts to recruit and retain school psychologists to improve the ratio
  • Supporting graduate student entry into school psychology graduate programs
  • Supporting/expanding the capacity of universities to train school psychologists

Last year, NASP partnered with Michael Griffith of the Education Commission of the States to do some analysis on the number of school psychologists needed to meet the ratio across the country- and the cost of doing so.  Based on his analysis, in order to meet the ratio of 1 school psychologist per 500-700 students, we need an additional 63,135 or 35,163 school psychologists, respectively.  The cost of meeting the ratio is between $2.7 and $4.9 billion dollars a year. Although this sounds like a lot of money, and it is, it represents only a .45%-.8% increase in education spending in the country.  Our students are worth that.  The problem is that even if states and the federal government agreed to invest these funds, there simply aren't enough school psychologists in the country right now to fill the gap.  So NASP is hoping to address this issue by both encouraging investments to hire more school psychologists as they are available, and help provide support to higher education systems to improve the pipeline and increase the availability of graduate education.

School Climate and Conditions for Learning

As all school psychologists know, students who do not feel safe and supported do not learn to their fullest potential.  It is imperative that all schools have safe and supportive learning environments, free of bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Unfortunately, for many of our students, school is not a safe and supportive place.  Students with disabilities and students of color continue to be suspended or expelled at rates disproportionate from their peers; LGBT+ students experience high rates of bullying harassment, and many schools report poor school climate or lack of trust among students and adults, which fosters a hostile learning environment and isn't conducive to student learning. NASP will be working with Congress to advance legislation that supports evidence based practices and data collection to improve positive school climates; helps provide training on implicit bias and effective discipline strategies as a way to combat the school to prison pipeline; ensures the availability of comprehensive supports to meet the academic, social-emotional, and mental and behavioral health of ALL students.

Supporting Students with Disabilities

When Congress first passed IDEA, it promised to provide 40% of the additional cost associated with educating students with disabilities.  Currently, Congress provides approximately 16% of the necessary associated costs.  We expect there to be renewed efforts to pass legislation that requires Congress to live up to their funding promise, but it may be a difficult accomplishment in this current fiscal climate.   There are also efforts to significantly limit the use of seclusion and restraint in schools, unless a student poses significant and imminent danger to themselves or others.  This legislation, called the Keeping All Student Safe Act was introduced last Congress, and it is expected to be introduced again this session. In regard to additional legislation, it is expected that Congress will primarily focus on ensuring that the Department of Education is enforcing the tenets outlined in IDEA. Of particular focus is what is known as the "significant disproportionality rule", which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has thus far delayed, and may try to do away with all together.  This rule outlined specific ways that states, districts, and schools, would be required to monitor, analyze, and report their special education policies and practices addressing disproportionality in special education. This includes monitoring disproportionality of specific racial/ethnic groups being identified as having a disability, which disability category they were identified for, whether these groups were at higher risk of segregated or exclusionary environment, and if they were subject to harsh discipline as compared to their peers.  We expect Congress to closely monitor this issue.  In addition, last Fall, the office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services released a framework for "Rethinking Special Education." At this time it is unclear exactly what policies or practices the Department hopes to change, but NASP will be watching.  

To stay up to date on public policy event and news, be sure to read NASP InBrief and check the Policy Matters blog as we post updates often.  If you have a special interest in advocacy and public policy, I encourage you to join the Advocacy and Public Policy Interest Group!