Citizen and Parent Advocacy

I think we’re in this for the long haul. I wrote this right after the 2016 election, in hopes of inspiring parents to step it up and get more involved. And so many have! That’s fantastic.

I am updating this post as we head into a new Congress at the beginning of next year. And, to document what I learned after a phone call with some DC policy makers last week. IDEA reauthorization is something on lots of minds lately.

special education lobbying

But we cannot let up. We cannot get tired. Even when we’re really really tired. We have to keep going. Lobbying and advocacy is going to be more important that ever.

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IDEA Re-Authorization

Last week I did a phone call with some DC policy makers. I recapped our conversation in a video, which is below. But here are some of the important takeaways from that conversation.

These are some of the items that I was informed about, in discussing Special Education and a possible re-authorization of IDEA.

  • Many think that the reauthorization of IDEA will not be a priority for the 117th Congress, and that’s actually a good thing.
  • IDEA only defines timelines for reauthorization of IDEA Part C and Part D, not Part B. (Part B is the IEP part!)
  • There are several well-financed groups, school administrators’ groups, school boards lobbying groups that are currently lobbying for things that most parents would not agree with. Mostly along the lines with doing away with a parent’s right to due process (and offering an alternative dispute resolution, but with far fewer rights), doing away with most family participation in the IEP process and overall just making the entire IEP process much more directive.
  • All groups are on the same page that they want full funding of IDEA, as we’ve been promised since 1975.
  • The professional groups mentioned above are not just better financed than parents’ groups, but far less fractured than the parent groups. Parents need to come together for this, as we have larger numbers if we can work together.
  • Overall, the policymaker I spoke with said that they see the IDEA issues as falling into 3 buckets: Funding, Oversight and Complaint Procedures.

Parent Issues and IDEA

These are the issues that I brought to them, for consideration. As of now, they just took notes. For the time being, with such a big election just weeks away, there’s no real action happening.

  1. More solid complaint system: Everything know is nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
  2. Funding. ‘Nough said.
  3. Burden of Proof: Needs to be on parent’s side as part of IDEA, not just the states who have separate burden of proof legislation.
  4. No one is focusing on outcomes of disabled children, which have not improved since 1975.
  5. No checks and balances on programming and efficacy: If a parent does not file Due Process, it is assumed everything is fine. No one is checking on quality of programming.
  6. No gags permitted on settlement agreements. Parents have a right to know what is going on in their district, and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.
  7. Transparent annual reporting: How much are districts spending each year to handle disputes with parents? Taxpayers have a right to know.
  8. System in place so that allocated special education funding is actually spent on special education and not elsewhere. This is a huge issue, particularly with some charter schools.

Here are reasons why every special needs parent must make a commitment to doing more lobbying and advocacy in the coming year.

Education Lobbying

These are just some of the reasons we need to get and stay involved.

  1. Everything our kids do will be is under attack. Every service we rely on–from medical assistance to public education, everything is going to be under attack in the coming administration. The GOP controlled Congress has its eyes on all kinds of cuts in education and more. We are going to have to stay informed and stay vigilant about what is happening.
  2. We are going to be competing with just about every other cause out there for our legislators’ attention. As it is, concerned citizens are crashing phone systems at their legislators’ offices and crashing websites with emails all over the nation. Every cause–education, the environment, animal rights, women’s rights, immigration, health care…you name it, it’s vulnerable. People everywhere are mobilized to act. And we have to be in the mix. If we do not speak up and make our voices heard, our politicians will stay focused on the voices they are hearing.
  3. There are well financed groups out there lobbying against what we want. Parents are at a disadvantage when it comes to this. Everything I do, I pay for myself. Others are being paid. Huge difference. But there are well-financed lobbying groups out there, telling legislators things that go against our kids’ best interests.
  4. Our voice is the only currency we have. Children do not have money. Disabled people, for the most part, do not have money. Our citizen voice is the only currency that our kids have. Our kids will not be donating $10 million to the Trump campaign the way his Education Secretary nominee has. But we do have more than 10 million votes, collectively, so we need to leverage what we have. And that is numbers.
  5. Because it’s our kids. Our kids do not have a voice. Maybe that is literal. Maybe that is figurative. They are not old enough to vote and are not taxpayers yet. But, they are consumers and citizens and are guaranteed some rights. We need to protect those rights for them. You’d do anything for your kids. So now, it’s time to step up. A few letters, a few phone calls, a few visits. It’s the least we can do.
  6. If not you, who? If you don’t speak up and try to protect your child’s rights, who do you think will?

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