What Will a Biden-Harris Administration Mean for Special Education?

Franczek P.C.
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Franczek P.C.

While much of the talk about Biden’s education agenda has quickly turned to who he will appoint to replace Betsy DeVos and how he will manage the COVID-19 pandemic, both critical issues for sure, we wanted to highlight Biden’s agenda related to special education. In his campaign, Biden made several important statements about his aims on this topic. Most importantly, he supports full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law provides for federal funding up to 40% of the average per pupil expenditure, but actual expenditures fall far short of that mark. The federal contribution is currently at about 14-15% or $13 billion. Additionally, his proposals include:

  • Increased funds to help teachers earn additional certification in high demand areas like special education. Given the shortage of special education teachers here in Illinois, additional support for teachers seeking this credential could help schools fill open positions and ensure student needs are met.
  • Double the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools so students have access to mental health care and triple Title I funding. While these goals are not directed specifically to special education, this type of additional support for students could ease the burden on special educators and related services providers.
  • Funding for early childhood development experts in community health centers and pediatrician offices with a high percentage of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients. Again, while this is not a special education initiative, it could boost child find and assist families in accessing early intervention services.

Each of these proposals involves funding, which means that each relies on Congress working together with the administration and agreeing to the expenditures. Given that the top priority is likely funding to support COVID-related initiatives, we will have to wait to see if any of these ideas moves forward.

Also on the legislative front, Biden supports the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which would end the use of seclusion and decrease the use of physical restraint in schools.

Outside of funding and legislation, Biden has made several statements about how his administration will approach disability-related issues, promising an inclusive White House. His website states that he “will appoint a director of disability policy within the Domestic Policy Council to ensure that these issues receive the attention they deserve at the highest levels of government and are integrated in broader policy discussions,” signaling a significant shift from the lack of familiarity with disability law and issues initially evidenced by the Trump administration.

While the new Secretary has not yet been determined, Biden has made statements about his directions for the Department of Education, including:

  • Fully implement the special education significant disproportionality regulation, which the Trump administration attempted to delay.
  • Have the Department provide additional guidance related to transition planning for students with disabilities.
  • Step up the investigation and enforcement activity of the Office for Civil Rights.
  • With respect to inclusion, “direct the Department of Education to support teacher preparation programs to ensure that all teacher candidates have the ability to support students with disabilities in their classrooms.”

Additionally, the change in administration brings the possibility of a new position on IDEA waivers or flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we have yet to hear Biden’s plans on this point, given the influence of teachers’ unions with the Biden team, IDEA flexibility may get additional consideration. We will keep you informed as the agenda and appointees of the President-elect become clearer.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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