States File Suit Over New School Meal Guidelines (April 6, 2019)

In its mission to roll back nutritional standards that were developed by the Obama administration to fight childhood obesity, the Trump administration has issued a final rule that permanently delays and eliminates sodium targets and cuts in half the amount of whole grains that need to be served in schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

According to the New York Times, critics of the move aver that the roll back was enacted  without doing any scientific research beforehand and despite the science underlying the requirements for healthier meals that shows that healthier school meals can improve the overall health and school preparedness of students.

Now, USDA is claiming that the Obama-era rules were burdensome for school districts and resulted in increased costs and decreased participation in the federal school lunch program. The USDA also asserts that certain states need the flexibility to “plan and serve meals that are economically feasible and acceptable to their students and communities,” and are “culturally appropriate.”

According to Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward, which is representing the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland, “This [action] is not just wrong; it’s illegal.” Critics also claim that the move puts the health of more than 30 million of the nation’s economically disadvantaged students at risk.

Echoing Ms. Harkavy’s concerns, on April 3rd a coalition of six states and the District of Columbia, along with advocacy organizations, sued the Trump administration in federal court over the rollback, claiming that the administration illegally issued rules that weakened requirements that school meals contain less salt and more whole grains. The suits claim the USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, issuing its rules with little public notice and no reasoned explanation and against overwhelming opposition from the public.

Federal Legislators Introduce IDEA Full Funding Act (April 6, 2019)

In late March, legislators in both houses of the US Congress introduced bills that would gradually increase funding for special education to the 40% originally intended when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act – now known as IDEA – was passed in 1975. The bill is named the IDEA Full Funding Act, which was brought to both the US House (as H.R.1878) and US Senate (S.866) and calls for incremental hikes in federal funding for special education until the 40% level is reached in fiscal year 2029.

Presently, the federal government pays less than 15% of the cost of special education and states and local school districts must foot the remainder of the cost.

Federal Budget Cuts to Education Raise Concerns (April 1, 2019)

This year’s proposed federal budget includes cuts to education totaling $8.5 billion (or about 12%), including the elimination of 29 programs. The Trump Administration has also proposed to eliminate the $2.1 billion Title II, Part A (Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants), which helps to support teacher salaries and professional development.

In the area of special education, the budget proposed last week by US Secretary Education Betsy DeVos created a highly publicized firestorm when she proposed cutting the $18 million federal dollar contribution for the Special Olympics. The notion that such a cut would actually occur was quickly dispatched after public opinion proved to be very much against it. However, there is much more to consider when considering cuts to other special education programs.

To begin with, the USDE is proposing a $7 million (nearly 10%) cut to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and a $5 million (nearly 17%) cut in funds for the American Printing House for the Blind. Gallaudet University, a federally chartered private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, would incur a $13 million (nearly 10%) cut in federal funding. $12 million for research regarding gifted ed. students would also be eliminated. There are no proposed cuts to special education grants to states.

According to the budget proposal, the above cuts are needed to “support the President’s goal of increasing support for national security and public safety without adding to the Federal budget deficit.” It is, however, highly unlikely that many or even all of the cuts to special education mentioned above would pass since they are proving to be highly unpopular.

Federal Court Rules for Schuylkill County Student in First Amendment Case (March 31, 2019)

Last week, a federal court ruled in favor of a Mahanoy Area High School student in a free speech rights case. In 2017, the former sophomore was removed from the cheerleading squad after making disparaging remarks about the school on Snapchat during a weekend and while she was not at or participating in a school activity. The ruling reinstated the student to the squad while averring that public schools have no authority to discipline students for off-campus speech.

USDE Delay Tactic Vacated by Federal Judge, Significant Disproportionality Rule Now Goes Into Effect (March 9, 2019)

On Thursday, March 8, 2019, a federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos illegally delayed an Individuals With Disabilities Education Act rule under the Obama administration that required states to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality” in the number of minority students channeled into special education services, segregated in restrictive classroom settings, or disciplined. The ruling called the USDE’s delay of the special education rule “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling also vacates the decision by Secretary DeVos to incur a two-year delay on the regulation, which instead must immediately go into effect as states are now required to identify school districts with “significant disproportionality.”