News Releases

Murray Lauds Passage of Special Education Legislation

May 13 2004

Senate Passes IDEA Reauthorization with Murray's Amendment to Increase Help for Disabled Children who Frequently Change Schools

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray today lauded the Senate’s passage of landmark legislation to improve American’s special education system. By an overwhelming 95-3 vote, the Senate agreed to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), legislation that will improve services for disabled children across the country.

“Our public education system must do more to help students in need. This bill goes a long way toward fulfilling the federal government’s commitment to those children and their families around Washington and throughout the United States,” Murray said. “While I’m disappointed the Senate failed to fully fund the program and I remain committed to the fight to fully fund special education, this is an important step in the right direction.”

As part of the bill, the Senate approved a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Murray and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) that will provide improved access to a high-quality education for four specific groups: disabled children who are homeless, disabled children in foster care, disabled children in military families, and disabled children in migrant families. The amendment targets these students because they change schools frequently. That lack of continuity often prevents them from getting the special education services they need.

"This is a major victory for America’s most vulnerable disabled students. It ensures that a high quality education will follow them whenever they have to move to another school,” Murray said. “I’m so glad that my colleagues in the Senate supported this crucial amendment to IDEA because it helps these kids reach their full potential.”

The bill now goes to a Conference Committee to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions.

Murray’s amendment would improve special education for homeless and foster children with disabilities and for children with disabilities in military or migrant families by:

  • Improving special education services when children transfer school districts and coordination between school districts on assessments and evaluations;
  • Ensuring that students’ records are transferred quickly between schools when students move;
  • Clarifying which appropriate adults can advocate for children with regard to their special education services;
  • Improving coordination between McKinney Vento and IDEA and overall representation of homeless and foster children in IDEA;
  • Strengthening services for infants and toddlers with disabilities who are homeless, in foster care, or in military families;
  • Ensuring that homeless and foster children with disabilities, children with disabilities in military families and their advocates are represented on state policy committees;
  • And improving inclusion of children with disabilities who are homeless, in foster care, and in military families in research and training grants.

As a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Murray has worked closely with Senators Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), who originally introduced the bill in June 2003. Murray’s amendment is the culmination of those efforts.

"I'm very proud today that our hard work on behalf of disabled children's education is paying off. Our amendment makes a very good bill even better," Murray said.

Some of the vulnerable groups of disabled students who will be helped by Murray’s amendment:

Foster Children

There are over 500,000 children in foster care, thirty percent of whom are in special education. Children in foster care are often shuttled between many different homes and schools. In addition, foster children often don’t have parents to advocate for their educational needs. Without a parent advocate, foster children can languish for years with unrecognized disabilities or insufficient services to help them succeed in school.

Homeless Children

Homeless children also face significant hurdles to succeed in school, which are exacerbated for children with disabilities. The Urban Institute estimates that 1.35 million children experience homelessness each year. A high proportion of homeless children with disabilities also need special education services, yet many homeless children have great difficulty accessing these services. Children who experience homelessness desperately need stability in their lives, but they often lack the continuity of staying in one school or even in one school district long enough for an Individualized Education Plan to be developed and implemented within their state’s current law timeline.

Children in Military Families

According to the Military Child Education Coalition, 13 percent of children in military families receive special education services or support. Further, children in military families move an average of every two to three years, which translates into attending six to nine schools from kindergarten until high school graduation. Children with disabilities in these highly mobile families often lack consistency in services, which causes them to fall behind their classmates as they move. Especially in times of war and when parents are extending stays abroad, children in military families need support and stability in their lives and education services.

Migrant Children

Migrant children change schools frequently making it especially hard for disabled migrant children to get a high quality, continuous education. In addition, language barriers can make it harder for migrant students to get special education services.