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Ed. Dept. Scrutinizing Rule on Minority Representation in Special Education

As a part of its regulatory reform efforts, the U.S. Department of Education is considering delaying a rule that would require states to use a standard method to determine if their districts have wide disparities in how they identify, place in segregated settings, or discipline minority students with disabilities.

As first reported by Politico, a draft Federal Register notice is seeking public comment on putting the rule off for two years. If nothing changes, the rule issued under the Obama administration is set to go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

Districts already must use 15 percent of their special education funding to address widespread disparities in identification, placement, or discipline of such students. That funding requirement has been in place since the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but only a fraction of districts around the country have been identified as having problems big enough to require the spending shift. 

Under the standardized rule, which was given prominence by President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative, many more school districts are expected to be identified as having minority overrepresentation in one of those areas, and would have to shift their federal special education allotment to address it. 

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, told Education Week that "through the regulatory review process, we've heard from states, [school districts] and others on a wide range of issues, including the significant disproportionality rule. Because of the concerns raised, the department is looking closely at this rule." 

The rule was made final in December 2016 and was touted by the Obama administration as a step toward improved educational equity for boys and young men of color. 

The Education Department has estimated the cost to states to implement the special education regulation over 10 years at between $50 million and $91 million. Additionally, between $300 million and $553 million in federal special education funds would be reserved for remedies. The wide range in the estimates is because the Education Department is not sure how many districts will ultimately be affected.

The department is in the process of reviewing a number of regulations, memos and guidance documents as part of efforts throughout the government to "lower regulatory burdens on the American people," as President Trump wrote in an executive order in February. 

Last week, it rescinded around 70 documents from the office of special education programs and the rehabilitation services administrations; those documents were old or had been replaced with more up-to-date information. 

This change, in contrast, would mark a major shift in a rule that has been in the works since 2014.

"It seems Betsy DeVos is on a mission to decimate basic protections for students at all levels," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., in a tweeted response to the Politico story.


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