February 19, 2016


Well, what do you know!

In January 2016, the GAO issued a report about the special education administrative burdens imposed by federal, state and local governments, “SPECIAL EDUCATION—State and Local Imposed  Requirements Complicate Federal Efforts to Reduce Administrative Burdens.”  The GAO studied federal and state/local paperwork and compliance requirements that impede educators from their job—education, and Congress’ attempt to ease them.  The report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/674561.pdf.

Of course, it’s good that the paperwork and compliance burdens imposed by laws on educators and schools is getting  yet another public look.   However, and not surprisingly (but interestingly), the GAO found that Congress’ 2014 IDEA efforts toward paperwork reduction—had no effect in the nation’s schools and classrooms. Specifically, Congress created two pilot projects allowing waivers:  one, to have multi-year IEPs, and the other to waive certain paperwork requirements. Neither happened! Nobody used them!

Why, one may ask. The report cites several possible reasons. Here, two of them are highlighted.

First, according to NASDSE (National Association of State Directors of Special Education, Inc), “the application (for the pilot projects) were much too resource-intensive for the potential value they would bring, and implementation of either pilot program would most likely require additional staff that federal funding would not cover.”

We can’t make this stuff up.  The pilot projects required more paper and  more staff members to reduce paper!

Second, the NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) indicated that no members favored the paperwork reduction waivers “in part because the perceived risk of exposing local districts to potential litigation if they were to eliminate any of the requirements that parents have come to expect.” (emphasis added).

Again, we can’t make this stuff up. It’s time for honesty and real solutions. The law created a paperwork and compliance monster in 1975 that continues to grow and morph to this day. Congress needs to fundamentally change that—fundamentally, from the ground up. Band aid attempts to fix it will not work. The only way around it is to end that compliance monster. With finality. With clarity. Not with scary waivers and new paperwork that add new burdens!

While we wait for that to happen (undoubtedly a long, long wait), in the meantime, Congress should affirmatively allow and encourage voluntary agreement options to thrive. One of these was “Procedures Lite,” which we successfully implemented several years ago in Massachusetts until the authorities forced that effort to shut down!  A sad day indeed, as I saw it.

At the very least in any new reauthorization, Congress should state unequivocally that it encourages voluntary parent and  school agreements to work cooperatively and  to waive requirements that they believe impede the planning and education for the child.  To make this work, Congress should assure parties that the law will not impose additional paperwork burdens on them (as described above by NASDSE).   Otherwise, reforms will not spring up, as we learned the hard way in Massachusetts.  We can only hope!

The GAO has shown what so many of us know:  So long as this legal entitlement (for parents and students with disabilities) exists, it is reasonable for schools, and state and local authorities to be reluctant to not dot all I’s and cross all T’s.   The waste of time and effort and loss of trust and collaboration involved in doing all of that means that the education for all children will continue to suffer.





About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line, DianeRavitch.net, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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