Apr 16 • 13M

News roundup: Pennsylvania schools to offer disability curriculum, Oregon schools outed for potential violations of IDEA, and more

Iowa to make life more difficult for all Medicaid and SNAP recipients in the name of saving $8 million a year... and losing $42 million in federal matching funds

 
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Shasta Kearns Moore
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Hello readers,

This week we have a bumper crop of news stories relevant to those raising disabled and neurodiverse children. So, we have an expanded news briefs section taking over this issue. As always, you can click the links to get to the original story. Here are the headlines you’ll find inside:

  1. Report finds more than 130 emergency teachers serving as special education teachers in Oregon, potentially violating federal law

  2. Pennsylvania introduces disability awareness curriculum to K12 schools, a first in the nation

  3. Iowa passes bill to tighten Medicaid and food stamp eligibility, burdening recipients with new requirements

  4. New genetic research offers hope for improved diagnosis and treatment of childhood epilepsies

  5. Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici introduces RISE Act to improve higher education accessibility for students with disabilities

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Report finds more than 130 emergency teachers serving as special education teachers in Oregon, potentially violating federal law

The Oregon Capital Chronicle published a report this week that more than 130 emergency licensed teachers are serving as special education teachers in Oregon. This appears to violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and go against recent guidance from the federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

U.S. law requires schools to offer children with disabilities an appropriate public education equal to that of their peers without disabilities. State law requires special education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, full state certification, or be enrolled in a special education degree program. Emergency teachers, however, do not need to meet these standards.

The Chronicle’s report suggests that the state is responsible for ensuring that all teachers are qualified, but says officials at the Oregon Department of Education and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission claim they do not know whether the 131 emergency special education teachers working in schools are on a pathway to full licensure. The use of emergency teachers has increased sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic in all types of classrooms, and today totals more than 520 such teachers across the state.

Low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners are most likely to be taught by the underqualified teachers, negatively impacting achievement, according to the Learning Policy Institute in California. The Chronicle report says 70 percent of fourth and eighth graders with disabilities in Oregon scored “below basic” in reading on the latest standardized metrics.

The report notes that the problems are not new or unique to the state, however. The Oregon Education Association reported in 2021 that the state has struggled to find enough special education teachers for at least 25 years. The National Center for Education Statistics also claims that special education teachers have a 46 percent higher turnover rate than other teachers and that it’s driven by a lack of administrative support, a lack of collaboration and excessive paperwork.


Pennsylvania introduces disability awareness curriculum to K12 schools, a first in the nation

Pennsylvania is the first state in the nation to introduce a disability awareness curriculum, according to an article out this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has launched the Disability Inclusive Curriculum Pilot Program, which will provide new curriculum to K12 schools that will highlight historical figures with disabilities and promote topics that help students understand that disabilities are natural. The program aims to reduce the stigma around disabilities and to include disability as part of a school-wide strategic plan.

The program is the result of Pennsylvania H.B. 1809, introduced last year by Republican Rep. Jason Ortitay “to create a more tolerant and inclusive world.” It passed with bipartisan support.

School districts will need apply for up to $30,000 in grant funding to help introduce it. Successful applicants will receive $10,000 per year for three years, running through June 2026, and curriculum can be implemented next school year.

Mary Anderson Hartley — executive director at the PEAL Center, or Parent Education & Advocacy Leadership — told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that districts should apply for the funding. “Disability shouldn’t be a mystery to all of their classmates,” Anderson Hartley said. “This embedded curriculum provides critical acknowledgement that people with disabilities live, work, play and lead in our communities.”


Iowa passes bill to tighten Medicaid and food stamp eligibility, burdening recipients with new requirements

The Associated Press reported this week that Iowa lawmakers have passed a bill that would require more checks on eligibility and ultimately result in around 1 percent of recipients losing Medicaid and food stamp benefits. This would amount to an estimated 8,000 Medicaid recipients and 2,800 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The changes are estimated to save the state roughly $8 million annually beginning in 2027.

Democrats argued that the bill would create barriers for those already struggling with high costs and remove qualified recipients. The changes would also result in a loss of $42 million in federal funding in Iowa by 2027, according to a legislative analysis.

The bill would not allow SNAP benefits to any household with more than $15,000 in liquid assets and personal property, a change from the current law which has income caps but no restrictions on assets. The Republican-backed measure would require state agencies to use various federal sources, like tax filings, to ensure eligibility. Applicants could also lose their aid if they don’t respond within 10 days to new regular state checks. A private company is likely to be hired to administer the new rules, according to the AP.


New genetic research offers hope for improved diagnosis and treatment of childhood epilepsies

New research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and National Institute on Aging sheds light on genetic mutations that may play a key role in the development of epilepsies resulting from malformations of cortical development (MCD). MCD is a rare but serious condition that can cause life-threatening treatment-resistant epilepsy. It is caused by tissue that was damaged or developed abnormally during prenatal brain formation.

Led by Dr. Joseph Gleeson, M.D., at the University of California San Diego and the Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, the international and interdisciplinary study performed genetic profiling of tissue from almost 300 children. Brain samples were collected as part of surgery to treat epilepsy. The researchers also studied control samples.

This study identified 69 mutated genes associated with MCD, of which 60 were genes linked to MCD for the first time. Twelve of the mutated genes were recurrently mutated, meaning they were identified in at least two different patient brain samples, giving more confidence that they contribute to MCD.

The identified genes could offer potential drug targets, help inform new clinical classifications and diagnoses, and ultimately lead to personalized treatments or early interventions for a range of mental and physical health conditions.

While the study provides insights that could lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of MCD, parents of children with these conditions should keep in mind that the research is still ongoing and the identified genes are only a small piece of the puzzle. Each child will have their own unique needs and prognosis and parents should continue to work with healthcare providers to chart the best path.


Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici introduces RISE Act to improve higher education accessibility for students with disabilities

Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici has submitted H.R. 2401 for consideration by the 118th Congress. The RISE Act — Respond, Innovate, Succeed and Empower — would appropriate $10 million to improve services to students with disabilities to attend higher education. If passed, the law would require universities, colleges and other institutions of higher education to take steps to make it easier for students with disabilities to attend. The bill would require them to accept a former IEP or 504 plan as eligibility for accommodations and to report data on the number of students with disabilities who are enrolled, the types of accommodations they receive and the number of degrees and certificates awarded to them. The bill’s sponsors hope that this sort of information will make it easier for parents and students to make informed decisions about the institutions before enrolling.

"Students with disabilities face many barriers to earning a degree or credential after high school, even without the additional burden of unnecessary paperwork and fees," said Bonamici in a press release. "Congress can help students with disabilities as they transition to higher education by making college support services more accessible — services for which these students already have a documented need. The RISE Act will reduce expensive and unnecessary requirements that students with disabilities face when entering college, increasing the likelihood that students with disabilities are able to complete higher education."

The bill has a bipartisan mix of five co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Education & the Workforce, of which Bonamici is a member. However, Skopos Labs a political science AI firm, gives the bill a 5 percent chance of passage.

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