March 25, 2021
Statement for the Record
U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on Education & Labor, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education
Lessons Learned: Charting the Path to Educational Equity Post-COVID-19
Chair Member Scott, Ranking Member Foxx, Subcommittee Chair Member Sablan, Ranking Subcommittee Member Owens, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this Statement for the Record. On behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD), we thank the subcommittee for the inclusion of additional funding in the American Rescue Plan of 2021, which President Biden signed into law on March 11, 2021. That funding is critically needed to support students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. As a federal voice for the over 61 million Americans with disabilities, including students with disabilities and their families, NCD, an independent federal agency, provides advice to the President, his Administration, Congress, and federal agencies based on our comprehensive and objective analyses to inform policy development, improvement, and enforcement efforts. We are committed to advancing policy solutions that create a more inclusive society for people with disabilities.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, disability advocates have been outspoken about concerns over the educational needs of students with disabilities during widespread school closures. The full extent of the effects of school closures and remote learning is not fully understood and requires deeper investigation. For this reason, since last year, NCD has been conducting a comprehensive study to examine the effects of the pandemic on people with disabilities across a range of policy topics that will include examination of students’ experiences. We will present our findings before this subcommittee at the conclusion of our research in late summer.
The full integration of children with disabilities into society cannot be accomplished without access to a free and appropriate public education. Under ordinary circumstances, students with disabilities – about 14 percent of students from kindergarten to 12th grade, and more than 7 million children – already experienced enormous barriers in their education. Prior to the public health emergency, IDEA funding was sorely inadequate, causing delays and denials of services, and triggering unfair social resentment and discrimination.
While the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to the educational experiences of all students, it was especially disruptive for students with disabilities. School districts’ sudden reliance on distance learning as the sole option for education exacerbated the exclusion and isolation of students with disabilities. While some students are thriving in a remote classroom, and some have fewer challenging behaviors at home, many more are losing out on educational opportunities during the protracted periods of lockdown and school closures.
The often overlapping problems experienced by students with disabilities include: barriers to accessing remote education related to equipment, technology and broadband; the inability of some students with disabilities to focus and learn during remote learning; the failure of schools to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities on remote platforms; the inability to receive services and supports that were provided in person or on school campuses, such as occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, behavioral and mental health supports, small group instruction, and one-on-one aides; among others. Those and other issues will be addressed in NCD’s report this summer.
Given the detrimental effects that students with disabilities have experienced as a result of the extended school closures, future federal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic must include additional IDEA funding, as well as provide compensatory education services to allow students with disabilities to regain the skills that were disrupted, delayed or completely lost. In planning for future national emergencies, it is of critical importance that we invest in technology, equipment and connectivity, not only for students with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to engage and succeed in remote learning, if that is the only option, but also to ensure they continue to receive the services and supports that are essential for their academic success.
Andrés J. Gallegos
 See National Council on Disability, Broken Promises: The Underfunding of IDEA 1, 13 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 7, 2018) (describing how the federal government funds only 18 percent of IDEA costs, and how funding issues can cause delays in evaluations or rejection of requests for independent educational evaluations, inappropriate changes in placement and/or services, and failures to properly implement individualized education programs (IEPs), together with resentment and discrimination against children with disabilities in their public schools), https://ncd.gov/sites/default/files/NCD_BrokenPromises_508.pdf.
 See GAO, Distance Learning, supra n. _, at 18 (discussing students with social anxiety or other mental health conditions).