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Duncan Praises Parents At Special Education Meeting

Parents of students with disabilities are used to fighting on behalf of their children and should be commended for their dedication, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a group of parents and special education officials at a conference today.

But, he added, "I also want to say I wish it wasn't necessary for parents to be such fierce advocates. I understand that parents are compelled to advocate because they see that their sons and daughters aren't getting the free, appropriate public education that federal law guarantees them."

Duncan was one of the keynote speakers planned for the week-long Office of Special Education Programs "Mega Conference," something new to the department this year. The conference is a gathering of three groups that normally meet separately: the National Parent Center Conference, which is geared toward parents of children with disabilities and those who work with them; the National Early Childhood Conference, which is for educators who work with infants and toddlers with disabilities; and the OSEP National Leadership Conference, for state directors of special education.

The groups still have separate sessions to receive targeted information, but the conference will spend one day on sessions that are of joint interest.

Duncan's speech focused on the role of parents in improving education. The parent centers for families of children with disabilities, funded by the Education Department, could serve as models for general education, the secretary said.

We're proposing to double funding for parent engagement—from one to two percent of Title I dollars—or a total of $270 million. At the same time, in order to drive innovation we will allow states to use another one percent of Title I dollars—about $145 million—for grant programs that support, incentivize, and help expand district-level, evidence-based parental involvement practices.

We want districts to think big about family engagement, to propose new strategies and hone in on best practices that raise student achievement. We have to put our resources behind what is truly important.

The full text of Duncan's remarks are here.

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