August 13, 2001
Honorable Robert E. Andrews
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Congressman Andrews:
I am writing to urge the conferees on H.R. 1, the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" and the "Better Education for Students and Teachers Act of 2001," to delete the Senate amendment that would remove the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from the annual appropriations process. I am sending this letter separately from the Administration's views on a range of issues in these bills so I can more thoroughly articulate our position on this very important issue. The IDEA reauthorization will be a top priority of this Administration, and we have already begun to prepare for this process. While I look forward to working with Congress on this reauthorization, the ESEA bill is not the appropriate vehicle for enacting changes to the IDEA.
I would like to commend you once again for your efforts to enact President Bush's No Child Left Behind proposal. As you know, when the President speaks of leaving no child behind, his commitment includes all students, including those with disabilities. The passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now the IDEA) nearly 26 years ago has helped millions of students with disabilities achieve high academic standards and participate fully in American society. Yet, notwithstanding this progress, there are still significant gaps between children with disabilities and their peers on such key indicators as graduation and student achievement.
The Administration recognizes the many challenges faced by States and localities in carrying out their responsibility to educate children with disabilities. While IDEA funding has nearly tripled over the last five years, we recognize the importance of providing additional funding. That is why the President's budget includes a $1 billion increase for the IDEA for fiscal year 2002, the largest increase ever proposed by a President in his budget. However, the Administration strongly opposes the Senate bill's full-funding amendment because it would remove the IDEA from the appropriations process and substantially increase Federal funding without improving educational results for children with disabilities. Like other critical education priorities, IDEA funding should remain subject to the annual appropriations process, where Congress has discretion to scrutinize federal spending and determine how best to allocate limited resources.
Special education is filled with complex issues and problems, including discipline, finance models, and possible overidentification and disproportionate placement of minority students. We believe that solutions to these challenges should be addressed within the context of a thorough review of the IDEA and as part of a comprehensive package of reforms, not as part of the ESEA reauthorization.
As our experience with the ESEA over the past three decades has proven, additional funding alone will not improve student performance. We need to take a hard look at what works in special education to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to reach high academic standards.
In the case of discipline, the President and I strongly believe that all students deserve to be educated in safe schools free from violence and drugs. While the Administration understands the goals behind the House and Senate amendments, we also recognize that IDEA discipline policy is a very complex and controversial issue. As such, it deserves a careful and thorough review during the IDEA reauthorization.
In addition, as a practitioner, I am aware of various problems with the implementation of the IDEA. In particular, I am very disturbed with the recent findings that, in many districts, minority students are overrepresented in special education classes. While the reports find that there are many different reasons for this, it is clear that we need to look more closely at this issue.
For example, we need to look at how to distribute Federal special education funds without creating inappropriate incentives regarding the referral, placement, or provision of services to children. I am pleased that both the House and Senate have adopted the President's Reading First proposal, which was intended, in part, to ensure that children are not unnecessarily referred to special education because of inadequate reading instruction. The Senate's full-funding amendment could create a fiscal incentive to refer children to special education at the same time that we are working hard to minimize inappropriate referrals.
While this letter only touches on some of the issues in special education, I urge you to delay consideration on all IDEA-related amendments until we have had a comprehensive, evidence-based review of the Act. Please be assured that the Administration has already begun to prepare for the IDEA reauthorization. I look forward to working with you to address these critically important issues.
Thank you for your commitment to achieving excellence in education through the reauthorization of the ESEA.
The Office of Management and Budget advises that there is no objection to the submission of this report from the standpoint of the Administration's program.