When the Departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, the Social Security Administration, other public agencies work closely together early to support and promote the growth and development of youth with significant disabilities, individuals benefit from the coordination of supports that lead to better outcomes. It is critical that systemic changes allow for flexible braiding of resources, coupled with a collective presumption that publicly-financed supports should focus on post-secondary education, integrated employment, and economic advancement of individuals with significant disabilities as outcomes.
To address several of these systemic barriers and to better promote the advancement of Americans with significant disabilities transitioning from youth to adulthood, a trio of bills called the Transitioning towards Excellence in Achievement and Mobility (TEAM) legislation was re-introduced in February of 2013. Each of the three bills, the TEAM-Education Act, TEAM-Employment Act, and TEAM-Empowerment Act, would strengthen accountability, clarify expectations, expand flexibility, and align systems to ensure that publically-funded assistance is effectively utilized to support one uniform goal: ensuring that every youth with a significant disability has the opportunity, encouragement and support to become gainfully employed in an integrated setting, pursue a post-secondary education, and contribute to and engage in meaningful ways in typical community settings once they leave high school.
The objectives of the TEAM Act are: the expanded focus & implementation of Transition strategies under IDEA; the development of an Adult Transition Services division in each states I/DD services authority; systemic reform focus on improving outcomes related to integrated employment and post-secondary education; and systems change to coordinate resources across multiple agencies.
• The TEAM-Employment Act (H.R. 509) would amend the Rehabilitation Act to mandate the creation of a transition services unit within each state’s I/DD services authority. It also requires that each state’s I/DD Authority to manage the successful development and completion of a young adult’s Individual Transition Plan (thus taking the place of the IEP) once the student exits the school system. TEAM Employment allows I/DD beneficiaries to select a transition broker to help navigate the various adult services programs in order to help the individual and their family successful accomplish the objectives of the ITP, thus allowing true person-centered planning.
• The TEAM-Education Act (H.R. 510) would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by allowing Part B Funds to be used to contract out the provision of transition services by a Local Education Authority (LEA); it would also create state block grants to fund the creation of transition coordinators. TEAM Education clarifies the introduction of transition services from age 14 on into IEP an invites state I/DD State Services Authority to participate in IEP process from 14 on.
• The TEAM-Empowerment Act (H.R. 511) would amend the Developmental Disabilities Act to establish Transition Planning and Service Divisions within the State Developmental Disability Authorities, as well as Individual Transition Plans to advance best outcomes and self-determination. Additionally the bill would increase accountability of these authorities by providing the Secretary of DHHS through the Commissioner of the Administration on developmental Disabilities (ADD) the authority to disburse assistance to states which agree to participate.
The TEAM Act would create national systems reform and by mandating the creation of a transition services authority for youth with disabilities. The TEAM act promotes Employment First principles through systems-coordination at various levels of government (reaching all major touch points in the transition process). This legislation also promotes self-direction through individual budgeting, the blending and braiding of individual budgeting and outcomes aimed at full integration of education, employment, and community living.
Administrative Action Recommendations
The following recommendations from a Roundtable of national experts should be acted on by the agencies even in the absence of new legislation:
• Even though the State education assessments focus solely on academics (and should do so), all students should receive instruction that promotes the following types of skills and knowledge for the attainment of integrated paid employment and/or participation in college:
o Academic skills and knowledge (especially literacy) to support life-long learning
o Communication competence--with access to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), when needed
o Social skills that are practiced in settings with typical peers.
o Independent work behavior
o Knowledge of how to access supports
o Collaboration skills
o Competence with computers and other technology
o Problem solving
• Personnel preparation courses are needed that:
o Create the vision for integrated paid employment and participation in college for students with intellectual disabilities, and
o Prepare general and special educators to promote all the skills and knowledge, listed above, as part of academic instruction in general education classes.
• Inclusion and Universal Design for Learning (www.udlcenter.org) should be emphasized from early childhood through postsecondary education.
• Key components of Early Childhood Programs that are designed with college and career readiness in mind:
o Inclusive environments
o High expectations
o Self -advocacy
o Skill development.
• High School services must be coordinated with vocational rehabilitation and developmental disability agencies, the Department of Labor and other local community services, (e.g. employers, community partners).
• High School services must be tailored to include integrated paid jobs before exiting school and to lead to college participation (including high quality alternative college programs) and/or competitive, integrated employment.
• IEPs should focus on these post-school outcomes.
• Key Components of High School services designed for college and career readiness
o Supports for inclusive education
o Universal design for learning
o On the job training (array of field-based work experience in real jobs)
o Summer focused planning early in the second semester to ensure summer employment
o Intentional sequencing of content instruction toward grade level academics and the other knowledge and skills that lead to the attainment of integrated paid employment and/or participation in college
o The same job/career support and job fairs provided to all other students, including access to informed guidance counselors
o The same job/career information for families.
• For students 18 and older (age for exiting varies by State), the least-restrictive environment (LRE) is NOT on the High School campus
o LRE for that age group is dual enrollment in college and/or integrated paid employment, with transportation.
o In addition to the current definition of LRE, there should be clarification as to how LRE pertains to preschool and how it pertains to transition or job training programs in high schools, community settings or college campuses (for students still eligible for IDEA services).
• Statutory and regulatory provisions are needed that describe requirements for “highly qualified transition specialists” that include skills in job development and customized employment.
• Transparency in Office of Special Education Program (OSEP) monitoring
o A high degree of transparency and public disclosure of data needs to be provided at the federal, state and LEA levels, including public reporting of all State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR) data, determinations, corrective action and Maintenance of Effort issues.
o Information should be posted in a timely manner and be easy to locate on websites.
• Data from OSEP monitoring must assure that:
o Parents have accurate and timely information in order to be meaningful partners in the special education process;
o Diverse stakeholders working towards system change have access to the information that will form the basis for their efforts;
o LEAs are accountable for implementation of the IDEA and for meaningful outcomes for students with disabilities on an ongoing basis; and
o OSEP and States have the data they need to ensure the law is implemented and on which to base continuous improvement efforts.
It is clear that there is a serious systemic problem in the way the students who take an Alternate Assessment based on Alternate Achievement Standards are prepared for post-school life and in the way they are assessed. Implementing the above recommendations would improve transition and post-school outcomes for these students.
Recommendations regarding postsecondary education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities
Short Term Recommendation: OSERS/RSA/OSEP should issue joint policy guidance, linked to the reauthorized Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), to be released immediately stating that IDEA funds may be used for students with intellectual disabilities, still eligible for IDEA services, and rehabilitation funds may be used for eligible individuals with intellectual disabilities to support their participation and education in postsecondary settings, including providing tuition and other services.
Long Term Policy Recommendation: Include language such as the following in the IDEA statute and/or regulations:
Transitional programs: IDEA Part B funds may be used for a student with a disability to participate in a transitional program at an institution of higher education or in a community-based setting, if the student’s IEP Team includes such services on the IEP. IDEA Part B funds may also be used to provide services to a parentally-placed student with disabilities participating in a transitional program at an institution of higher education or community-based setting, through a services plan.
LRE applies to 18-21 year old population: Clarify in IDEA statute or regulation that the least restrictive environment requirements apply to students with disabilities who are older than the typical age for high school students and still eligible for IDEA services.
A. Vocational Rehabilitation Funding: (use of VR funds to support students with ID in PSE).
Funding for individual students may be available through the vocational rehabilitation system. Nothing in the Vocational Rehabilitation Act or regulations prevents students with intellectual disabilities (ID) from utilizing VR funds for tuition assistance to students with intellectual disabilities in postsecondary education (PSE). However, VR offices at the local level often state that it is not allowable to do so for various reasons. While some state VR systems offer such tuition assistance for students with intellectual disabilities, many do not. There are other ways that the VR system could and should provide services directly to students with ID in PSE, including providing job coaches and extended situational assessments, as well as collaborating with other agencies and the student and family.
Short term policy recommendation: Immediately issue guidance clarifying the above.
Long term policy recommendation: Include in statute and/or regulations.
Additional US ED recommendation: Issue Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter to Chief State School Officers and Higher Education Commissions informing them that the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act supports access to postsecondary education options for students with Intellectual Disabilities and encouraging them to support the development or enhancement of such options and services (including language above regarding IDEA and VR funding).
B. DD Act Reauthorization
Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (DD Act of 2000) (42 U.S.C. 15001, et seq.)
Background: The DD Act is up for reauthorization and this provides an opportunity to provide more of a focus on PSE for students with ID and DD. Currently, Developmental Disability Councils and University Centers for Excellence in DD (UCEDDs) are playing important roles in a number of states in creating and expanding high-quality PSE programs and services. The AUCD is also providing important technical assistance and networking.
Policy Recommendation: the DD Act should be amended to include postsecondary education as a “priority area” for DD Councils and as an “area of emphasis” for UCEDDs.
C. Other Federal Laws:
Funding and supports may also be available through developmental disability state agencies, the Social Security system, and Department of Labor programs, among others, although accessing those funds can be difficult or impossible. Blending and braiding funds from different federal and state sources is important but very difficult.
Short term policy recommendation: Legislation for each agency should be examined and appropriate recommendations made. Examine barriers to blending and braiding funds and develop recommendations.
Long term policy recommendation: Modify and align existing legislation to support increased access to PSE for students with intellectual disabilities (e.g., IDEA, HEA, NCLB, WIA, SSA, Transportation Act, DD Act, Medicaid, Olmstead).