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Betsy DeVos Invited to Address Annual Special Education Conference

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been invited to address the audience of an annual conference in Washington sponsored by the federal office of special education programs.

The three-day OSEP Leadership Conference starts on July 17 and draws special education experts from around the country to discuss policy issues affecting students with disabilities. Her appearance would mark the first time the secretary has met with a special-education focused audience, after a bumpy introduction to the topic. 

There's plenty to discuss this year: the president's proposed budget doesn't make many changes to current special education funding levels, but it does include money for projects related to school choice, including a $1 billion increase to Title I funding that would be earmarked for public school choice, and a $250 million program that would pay for, and study, private-school vouchers.

The choice plans, particularly the promotion of private school vouchers, have drawn ire from some special education advocates. They say that the department needs to ensure that schools that accept vouchers follow the tenets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (As I've written, the IDEA does not require that private schools follow the same rules that public schools do. You can read more in my blog post, "What Does Federal Law Say about Vouchers and Students With Disabilities?") 

The House of Representatives has proposed its own budget  bill that does not include these choice programs. 

But spending is not the only issue that will be discussed at the leadership conference. Here are just a few other panel topics that I'll have my eye on: 

Pay for Success: There are multiple projects going on around the country that use private funds to pay for public programs. Many of the programs are geared toward early-intervention programs that will presumably reduce the likelihood of students needing expensive special education programs later in their school careers. 

Early-childhood suspensions and disproportionality: Preschool suspensions were an issue flagged by the Obama administration, and many states and localities are moving to prevent the practice. 

High-leverage practices: The Council for Exceptional Children and the federally funded Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability and Reform,  or CEEDAR, Center, have released a list of practices that all special education teachers know and should be able to do. I'll be following up with that list of "high-leverage  practices" in more depth.


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