While school districts still haven’t received any federal education aid from Congress to deal with the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the House has passed a measure that could ease education rules for Gulf Coast schools and others that have enrolled students displaced by the storms.
The Hurricane Regulatory Relief Act of 2005, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La., passed the House on a voice vote Nov. 16.
The wide-ranging measure would allow displaced teachers who had already achieved “highly qualified” status in their states to get the same designation, for one year, in the states to which they moved following the storms. Such status is required for most teachers under the No Child Left Behind Act as of this school year.
The bill also would provide more time for districts to meet certain requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, including for testing and evaluating students in special education and reporting data on them.
The bill would instruct the federal Department of Education to do additional outreach to college and university students to see if new financial status after the hurricane qualified them for Pell Grants.
For Head Start, the federal program for disadvantaged preschoolers, the bill would require additional technical help for programs in the Gulf Coast region and would waive income documentation for parents enrolling their children.
Schools ‘Still Waiting’
On the House floor, Rep. Jindal said his proposal provides “common sense” measures to help ease life for people forced from home by the hurricanes, which struck in August and September, and said federal procedures were slowing the recovery process.
“Entire communities have been uprooted by these unprecedented natural disasters, and we must work to ensure that bureaucratic red tape does not hamper efforts to restore the region,” he said on Nov. 16.
The bill provides no money for the Gulf Coast, and it still must be passed by the Senate. Still, House Democrats praised it, saying it would ease hurricane victims’ recovery efforts.
“This new flexibility will help them begin the long and arduous task of recovery,” Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-Ill., said on the House floor. But he took Republican leaders to task, saying federal funding was what was really needed.
“Instead,” he said, “over two months now since the storms, these school systems are still waiting.”