Proposed Federal Rules Seek to Cut Administrative Burdens Tied to Special Ed. Law

Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Education is proposing to allow up to 15 states to receive waivers for meeting regulatory paperwork requirements covering students with disabilities.

The proposed requirements are intended to reduce “excessive paperwork and noninstructional time burdens” on service providers, special education teachers, and state and local administrators, according to the proposed requirements, which were released June 5.

Yet one advocacy group said the proposed rules are likely to draw hard questions about whether students’ rights are being protected in the push to reduce administrative burdens.

The proposed rulemaking would apply to paperwork requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal law governing policies for special-needs students.

The government plans to grant waiver proposals designed to produce the greatest benefits as measured by the reduction of hours spent filing paperwork or the number of instructional hours gained, and the number of personnel and students with disabilities that would be positively affected by waivers.

The department also envisions that service providers would be part of waiver application processes. Waiver applicants would be required to detail in their proposals how they involved multiple stakeholders, including teachers, companies providing services to districts, and school and district administrators.

The language is largely generic, and it’s tough to get a sense as to what specific paperwork burdens are being considered for reduction, said Annie Acosta, director of fiscal and family support for The Arc of the United States, an advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“There’s no indication which aspect of the [federal requirements for] reporting they’re trying to get at, so it sort of leaves us with a lot of question marks,” she said.

The department is accepting public comments on the proposal through Aug. 19. Advocates for special-needs communities, including The Arc, are likely to weigh in, which will inform any final requirements to be adopted, Acosta said.

The proposal is intended to increase the time and resources available for instruction and other activities that would improve educational and functional results for children with disabilities, according to the department.

One piece of the department’s proposal points out that the finalized requirements will not affect the right of a child with special needs to receive a free appropriate public education under Part B of the IDEA.

But The Arc intends in its comments to press the agency on how any final rulemaking would avoid impinging on these rights, Acosta said.

In addition to changing requirements, the department is proposing to make grant funds available to states to plan and implement reductions of excessive paperwork and noninstructional time burdens.

Past efforts to issue similar IDEA grants generated little interest from would-be applicants, but those funding amounts were pretty low, Acosta noted.

The department’s announcement does not set forth proposed grant amounts.

Interested readers can submit comments on the proposed rulemaking here.

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