August 15, 2012
In a hearing before the Senate Education Committee on August 9, 2012, advocates for New Jersey’s students with disabilities, including the Education Law Center (ELC), offered a list of key priorities for legislative action for the coming year. The advocates responded to an invitation from Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), Committee Chair, who has made improving the delivery of special education services a prime focus for 2012.
In testimony to the Committee, ELC made recommendations in the following areas:
? Accountability: NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) should conduct an “outcomes study” to examine the lives of adults who, as students, received special education services. Objective data on the life experiences of students with disabilities is crucial to respond to new U.S. Department of Education initiatives designed to focus state oversight on outcomes of students receiving special education services.
? Funding: NJDOE should follow through on a 2010 recommendation by the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, as well as Augenblick and Palaich, a Denver-based firm with expertise in school finance, to conduct an independent study examining the actual cost of special education in order to revise the current “census-based” method of funding special education services.
? Cost Saving: A moratorium should be imposed on the establishment of new public schools to be used primarily for students with disabilities; regionalizing student transportation and the sharing of equipment and assistive technology by school districts; and increasing intervention services prior to referring students for special education services.
?Segregation: NJDOE should provide training of teachers and administrators to address the disproportionate classification of minorities for special education, and enhance its monitoring of school districts for bias and discrimination based on race.
? Student Rights: Restraints and seclusion must be banned in schools, except in emergency situations; school districts rather than parents must file for due process if they seek changes in educational programs or placements contested by the parents; zero-tolerance discipline policies must be banned.
Advocates reminded the Committee of New Jersey’s “worst in the nation” record in educating children with disabilities in the general education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate, as required by federal law. ELC called for NJDOE to work with districts in developing high-quality, in-district programs and services; providing training regarding inclusive education and positive behavior supports; improving transition to adult life; and stepping up parent/professional collaboration. NJDOE must also ramp up monitoring of inclusive practices in districts, and support the construction of school facilities to better accommodate students with disabilities.
“I’m grateful that Senator Ruiz solicited the input of the disability community across the state,” said ELC Senior Attorney Ruth Lowenkron, who delivered the center’s testimony. “ELC looks forward to working with the Senate Education Committee in the coming year on critical special education issues.”
Ruth Deale Lowenkron, Esq.
973-624-1815, x 21
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications