Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Special Education

The National PTA Legislative Checklist calls for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that further supports and improves the lives of more than 6.5 million eligible children, from infants through youth. Reauthorization must:

  • Include a statutory definition of family engagement in education based on National Standards for Family-School Partnerships within section 602 of IDEA.
  • Provide greater protections for the rights of children with special needs, as well as their families, to ensure access to resources and supports for high-quality education.
  • Require transition planning for qualifying students to begin no later than age 14, incentivizing school districts to employ appropriate staff to deliver services.
  • Support the inclusion of behavioral intervention plans in a student’s IEP and 504b plan.

One of the fundamentals of IDEA is the inclusion of Procedural Safeguards designed to enumerate the rights of both the student and family, and the school district when determining appropriate educational programs for students with special needs. These safeguards include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ right to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards, the method of submitting any complaints, and the mechanism for resolving disputes,
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to review in its entirety a student’s educational record
  • The right to participate in meetings to identify, evaluate, or place a student in a particular educational program, including the provisions of a free appropriate education for the student (FAPE)
  • The right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
  • The right to prior written notice on matters relating to the student
  • The right to give or deny consent before the school make take certain action with regard to the student
  • The right to disagree with decisions made by the school system

The Illinois PTA recognizes that the educational environment for students with special needs, as defined within the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), must consider the needs of the student as part of the planning process. One critical element of assessing student needs continues to be funding. Item 3c of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform calls for full funding of all mandated educational and special programs so that all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This position is expanded in Item 3g of the platform which calls for adequate appropriations for the education of special needs students.

In addition, we support the development of Social and Emotional Learning Standards (SEL) which provide content, skills, evaluation, and assessment at age appropriate levels as part of the curricula crafted by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

The Homework System for ADHD Kids

Homework can be challenging for kids, and not just the homework itself. Kids have to write down the assignment properly, bring home the right books and materials, keep track of due dates, and remember to hand in the completed homework—all of which can be extra challenging for anyone with poor memory, focus, or attention to detail. ADDitude, a website of resources and advice for those who have ADHD or parent a child with ADHD, created a slideshow of their 13-step homework system designed for children with ADHD or learning disabilities, though the system would help any kid who struggles with homework. Among the suggestions are:

  • Get the teachers on board
  • Set up a home routine
  • Designate a homework location
  • Use a timer
  • Take breaks and refocus
  • Have a plan for long-term assignments

If your child is struggling with any step of the homework process, whether they have ADHD or not, be sure to check out the full slideshow to help you set up a system in your house. It may take a few months to become a habit, but creating consistent routines at home and school will help both you and your child stress less about homework.

New Illinois ABLE Program Helps Families with Special Needs

ilRaising a child with special needs can be expensive. Last week, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs unveiled the Illinois ABLE plan to help families save for future expenses. The plan was developed by the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, a consortium of 13 states that worked with Congress and state legislatures to create this special investment program that allows for tax-free investment growth when savings are spent on qualifying disability-related expenses.

The plan is similar to the 529 college savings plans in that families would be allowed to set aside money for future qualified expenses, invest these funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid some tax penalties on the fund. Eligible individuals can open the account for themselves, or an authorized individual can open an account on their behalf. To be eligible, a person must:

  • Be entitled to SSI or SSDI because of their disability
  • Have their disability present before age 26

Annual contributions per beneficiary are limited to the federal gift tax limit, which is currently $14,000. Like the 529 college savings plan, anyone can contribute to an ABLE plan, including relatives and friends. The Illinois ABLE plan is designed to protect an individual’s federal benefits, and up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account would not be counted against a person’s eligibility for SSI or other federal means-tested programs. ABLE account holders are still eligible for Medicaid regardless of their account balance.

Withdrawals from an ABLE account are tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses. These are any expenses that are incurred as a result of living with a disability and that are intended to improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Legal fees
  • Financial management
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Oversight and monitoring
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The state treasurer’s office has created a fact sheet to share with families who may benefit from the Illinois ABLE plan. The Illinois ABLE website provides additional information as well as providing a fast and easy way to sign up and create an Illinois ABLE account.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.