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On November 18 LDA will join members of Congress and the U.S. Department of Education and other advocates and families in celebrating the 35th anniversary of the signing of Public Law 94-142. Now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), P.L. 94-142 was the first federal statute that guaranteed children and youth with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education. Signed by President Gerald Ford, the IDEA now affords almost 6.6 million students with disabilities special education services and early intervention services to nearly 350,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.
Fittingly, the special anniversary celebration will be held in the Kennedy Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building. The room was named for Senator Ted Kennedy, who was a tireless champion for children with disabilities. The honorary sponsors of the event are the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate education committees: Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and John Kline (R-MN).
The official date of the anniversary is November 29. LDA encourages members to host and participate in local and state celebrations and to use these opportunities to educate the general public about the importance of the IDEA in the lives of individuals with learning disabilities.
For the first time since 1858, Congress will have a Democratic president, a Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Republican majority in the House. LDA has begun looking for potential new friends among the 93 freshmen House members and 16 freshmen senators who have an interest in issues related to individuals with learning disabilities. Representative John Kline (R-MN), currently ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor, will most likely become chairman. That committee deals with education, training and employment, programs for the elderly, environmental education, and a host of topics of concern to LDA members.
Shortly after the election, Mr. Kline released an outline of his education and employment priorities for the 112th Congress. Those priorities are as follows:
There will be a significant number of new members on the Education and Labor Committee. Once decisions about committee membership are made beginning in December and into January LDA and state leaders will begin to establish relationships with new members, as well as with new members on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
President Obama has established a task force focused on identifying and developing promising approaches to improve workforce skills. The task force will coordinate federal agencies' work with non-profits, the private sector, and labor unions to strengthen business and community college partnerships that will prepare workers for current and future employment. One of the functions of the task force is the alignment of federally funded workforce training programs with innovative practices and regional market demands to increase skills-based training for students and adults, including individuals with disabilities.
The presidential memorandum announcing the formation of the task force stresses the use of community colleges in providing training relevant to the job market. The memo also states that four-year colleges, on-line universities, and non-traditional educational institutions must develop "flexible, affordable, and responsive training programs that meet regional and national economic needs."
With hundreds of thousands of "baby boomer" teachers expected to retire over the next few years, the U.S. Department of Education has launched an initiative to encourage high school and college students to consider a teaching career. The new campaign, featuring an interactive website, helps students plan step-by-step step how to become a teacher. The Department hopes to increase the number of individuals who want to teach, as well as the quality and diversity of the workforce, particularly in high-need areas, including special education.
Teacher shortages are evident in high-need urban and rural schools, in science, math, and technology subject areas, and in working with English Language Learners. The campaign also hopes to encourage more minority males to enter the profession. While more than 35 percent of public school students are black or Hispanic, less that 15 percent of teachers are persons of color and less than 2 percent are African-American males.
The Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University recently hosted a congressional briefing focused on the juvenile justice system. Presenters discussed the general profiles of juveniles currently in the system, but also highlighted findings that pointed to health, mental health, and educational outcomes, including the large number of youth with learning disabilities.
Researchers have identified characteristics of interventions that are most effective in reducing recidivism and improving family, school, and mental health outcomes. Presenters noted the need to work toward better implementation of these practices, which currently may be impeded by barriers such as cost, perception, and other organizational challenges.
Much of the discussion focused on the general profiles of juveniles in the current system; however, findings did highlight their health, mental health and educational outcomes (graduation rates, academic achievement levels, and learning disabilities). The presenters stressed the need for greater collaboration among all youth-serving systems, particularly health and education.