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House Education Committee Requests Report on IDEA Paperwork Burden

Two House Education Committee leaders are asking the Government Accountability Office to find out which parts of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act create the most paperwork for schools and districts, and to figure out why no state has taken advantage of paperwork-reduction pilot programs that were written into the law when it was reauthorized nearly 10 years ago. 

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce committee, and Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., the chairman of the House education subcommittee on K-12 policy, both signed the letter, dated Dec. 17. In it, they also asked the agency to find out if innovative technology could play a role in reducing paperwork, and if administrative redundancies make the paperwork problem worse. 

Back in 2006, I wrote an article about the paperwork-reduction pilots, which were off to a slow start even then. The law has a provision that would allow up to 15 states to propose ways they would cut down on the administrative tasks they require related to special education services. The U.S. Secretary of Education was empowered to waive certain requirements to allow those proposals to go forward.

At the time, special education administrators said that the pilot program, rather than reducing paperwork, would actually add to their workload if the Education Department asked the states to document the impact of every change and waiver. From my article:

Critics say that the proposed rules would transform both pilot programs into intensive research projects. Documenting the results of the pilot programs and then reporting the information to Washington could ultimately mean more, not less, work for teachers, schools, and districts, they say.

"It's a shame, because we've discussed this for years," Marcia Harding, the associate director for special education in Arkansas, said of the goal of reducing the paperwork in special education,

Arkansas was one of the states that responded to the Education Department's request for comments on the proposed rules. In her letter to the federal department, Ms. Harding said that her agency was so understaffed that it was unlikely to be able to devote staff time to collecting data for and managing the pilot programs.

In addition, she told the department, she felt that parents were unlikely to be willing to drop many of the components of the current [individualized education program] process in favor of an untried method that they fear may not meet their children's needs.

Ms. Harding said in an interview that under the proposed rules, it's unlikely that Arkansas would apply to participate in the pilot programs.

The Dec. 17 letter from the legislators said that nothing ever came from a provision in the law that would allow the U.S. Department of Education to create model IEP forms, either. Those model forms exist, but have never been "adopted in the field," Kline and Rokita write. 

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