Federal File

October 09, 2002 1 min read

Wait Till Next Year

Lawmakers will not tackle the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act until next year.

This is not a shocking statement. But hearing it said on the record is a bit startling.

Political observers have figured for months that lawmakers would be too busy to rewrite the nation’s special education law in what remains of the 107th Congress. Pressing issues loom: Iraq, homeland security, and appropriations for fiscal 2003. Not to mention lengthy recesses for the upcoming elections and Thanksgiving before this cohort of lawmakers permanently decamps a few days before Christmas.

Nonetheless, last week was the first time a spokesman for either the Senate or House education committee would admit that the legislation is an IDEA whose time has not come.

“We are working on a bipartisan basis even on controversial issues like discipline,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “We will take it up next year.”

The tone of discussions about the IDEA has changed dramatically on Capitol Hill in recent months.

Tempers had flared over issues such as special education funding and the discipline of students with disabilities during the hearings last year leading up to the overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

It looked as if Democrats and Republicans were poised for a special education showdown—and soon. The House and Senate education committees had been vehement that they would get to the IDEA this year.

Then something changed. Lobbyists speculate that lawmakers enjoyed the praise and success brought on by their bipartisan cooperation on the ESEA, which they reauthorized in the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. Maybe they saw they could work well together.

Whatever their reasons, members of Congress have apparently been quietly hammering out compromises on even the most contentious issues surrounding the reauthorization of the IDEA. On the discipline issue, for instance, lawmakers are said to be edging toward adding “bodily harm” to the narrow list of school offenses that can cause a special education student to be suspended or expelled.

But Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association for School Administrators, said he thinks that term may too vague and require further defining language.

— Lisa Fine Goldstein