FAQs About Special Education and the New Administration

Understood does not take positions on government policy. Some of our 15 founding partners may, however. That includes our managing founding partner, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Our mission at Understood is to make sure parents have the information they need to support their child.

Having a new president always leads to change at the Department of Education. That includes the appointment of a new secretary of education. For many parents, this can raise a host of questions. Here, Lindsay Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for NCLD, answers some common questions parents may be having.

Q. Who is the new secretary of education, and what should I know about her?

The new secretary of education is Betsy DeVos. She is a philanthropist from Michigan who has dedicated her time and financial resources to promoting school choice programs in Michigan and elsewhere around the nation. She has not held any position in public education.

Q. Why was her appointment so controversial?

Many civil rights and disability advocacy organizations were (and remain) very concerned about DeVos’ appointment. Before her confirmation, NCLD submitted a letter urging senators to ask DeVos questions that would clarify how she would uphold the rights of students with disabilities, promote their strengths, protect public education, and ensure teachers are prepared to support our students in the classroom.

Unfortunately, during her hearing, Betsy DeVos appeared to be unfamiliar with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). She also stated that the decision to meet the requirements of IDEA should be a decision left up to each state. These statements, among others, left NCLD concerned about whether DeVos would effectively serve students with disabilities as secretary of education.

During this process, the Office of Government Ethics also reported that DeVos owned a multimillion-dollar interest in a company, Neurocore, that she would not let go of when she became Secretary of Education. Neurocore claims to provide effective treatment for children and adults with , and there is no reliable evidence to support those claims.

NCLD and another Understood founding partner, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), expressed concern that DeVos’ refusal to divest of her ownership in Neurocore could lead to a conflict of interest that prevents the Department of Education from addressing policies that impact children with ADHD.

Q. How will the changes at the Department of Education affect my child? How can I find out?

At this point, it’s unclear what changes might occur under the new secretary and administration. The House of Representatives has voted to overturn the accountability and teacher preparation rules in the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), the education law that replaced No Child Left Behind. And the Senate is set to have its own vote on those rules. The law itself remains in place even if the regulations are overturned.

There are a number of ways you can get information about any changes to your child’s education. For questions or concerns about potential changes at your child’s school, you can speak with the principal about the school’s plans.

There might be developments that allow your state to create new programs or change existing ones. In that case, you can contact your state’s education department to learn more. There might also be changes at the federal level. You can reach out to advocacy organizations like NCLD, or check on their website, for updates. You can also contact your state Parent Training and Information Center.

Q. Which issues seem to be important to the new administration? What can I expect to see?

The primary issue mentioned by the president is what some refer to as “school choice.” There’s no set definition of that term, however. So it’s not clear how the administration might view it.

School choice could be interpreted to mean:

  • Having charter schools, magnet schools or virtual schools available to you.
  • Using a publicly funded voucher toward private-school tuition.

Before the election, President Trump proposed a huge change in education funding. This plan would take $20 billion of existing federal funding for schools and divert it to school choice programs. But there’s been no indication of whether the administration will do that.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is also a strong supporter of the concept of school choice. So this is an issue that will likely get a lot of attention.

Q. It sounds like voucher programs are going to be talked about a lot this year. What does this mean for my child? And what should I know about them?

While voucher programs vary across the country and come in many forms, the term generally describes programs that use public money to pay for student tuition at a private or parochial school. This option is currently only available in some states, and eligibility may be limited to certain students based on income level or level of educational need.

Many parents wonder what will happen to their child’s special education services if they use the voucher. Will their child continue to get special education services in a private setting?

Some private or parochial schools may choose to provide some supports and services. But unlike public school, there is no legal protection for you and your child at a private or parochial school, as it applies to IDEA. In fact, some voucher programs require parents to give up their rights under IDEA.

Also, unlike public schools, private and parochial schools do not have to admit every child and provide them with individualized services.

Here are some important things to know about voucher programs:

  • Vouchers are only available in some states.
  • Some voucher programs are limited to families who fall below a certain income level.
  • Vouchers are only worth a specified amount (which can vary) and typically do not cover the full costs of tuition of private school.
  • Vouchers limit the special education rights of students and parents at private schools.

NCLD has concerns about vouchers for a few reasons. Private schools included in these programs rarely have to show student progress and whether students are learning.

Also, parents may not be fully informed about what they’re giving up. For example, in addition to giving up their rights, parents may have to transport their kids to and from private schools.

For families in rural areas, there may not be a viable option for a private school close to them. And some parents don’t have easy access to transportation.

If vouchers are (or become) an option in your state, it’s important to learn more about your state’s program and requirements before deciding to use them. NCLD will be providing more information on vouchers in the near future.

Q. The new education law, ESSA, goes into effect with the 2017–2018 school year. Will that be affected by the change in administration?

It might be delayed. ESSA requires states to create their own education plans. Under the law, and in regulations issued by President Obama, states must submit those plans by one of two deadlines: April or September of 2017.

The Trump Administration has put a freeze on many new regulations, including the ones related to ESSA, so that they can be further reviewed. But despite this, it appears that most states are still planning to follow the original timeline in order to meet the requirements set out in the law.

If you want to learn more about the new administration and changes at the Department of Education, or if you want to take action, visit NCLD.org.

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.