Testimony of Soumya Bhat, Education Finance and Policy Analyst, At the Public Hearing on B20-723, Special Education Student Rights Act of 2014

Chairman Catania and members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Soumya Bhat, and I am the Education Finance and Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.

I am here today to offer input on the special education bills currently under consideration by the Council Committee on Education. DCFPI applauds the work of the Committee to introduce these bills focused on strengthening the infrastructure, streamlining access, and improving the quality of DC’s special education services. DCFPI sees the proposals as taking important steps in the right direction for the District to better serve students with special needs.

I would like to comment today on two provisions that I believe are especially important. The first would extend services to more young children with developmental delays, rather than waiting for delays to reach serious levels. The second would reduce the amount of time that DC Public Schools and DC public charter schools have to assess a child for special education eligibility, so that students needing help will get it faster.

The District recently expanded eligibility for early intervention services under IDEA Part C so infants and toddlers up to age three can get services if they have a 50 percent developmental delay in one area or 25 percent in two areas. The Enhanced Special Education Services Act of 2014 proposes a further expansion of these eligibility criteria to include children demonstrating a developmental delay of 25 percent in at least one area. DCFPI supports this policy change, already in practice in at least 19 other states, including Maryland and Virginia,[1] which would result in earlier identification and intervention for more DC children.

Currently, the Office of State Superintendent for Education reports about 500 children receive early intervention services.[2] Once an evaluation of a child’s skills is completed, staff members develop an individual plan for services to meet the child’s identified needs. Early intervention services may include occupational, physical and speech/language therapy, special instruction, vision, or hearing services in the child’s home or child care setting. In addition, families can receive counseling and training to help them support their child’s development.

To read the complete testimony, click here.

[1] National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC), “Summary of States’ and Territories’ Definitions of/Criteria for IDEA Part C Eligibility,” June 1, 2012, http://www.nectac.org/~pdfs/topics/earlyid/partc_elig_table.pdf.

[2] E-mail from Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) staff on June 18, 2014. Figure is from December 2013.