Author Archives: Marnie Kaplan

Four Things You Should Know About the ADA on its 27th Anniversary

Twenty seven years ago today, the first comprehensive civil rights act for individuals with disabilities was signed into law. The vote yesterday to move forward on debate for the “Obamacare” repeal has created a strange anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now with the possible repeal of Obamacare and massive cuts to Medicaid looming, the legacy of progress for individuals with disabilities is threatened. On the anniversary of this groundbreaking bill, here are four things you should know about the ADA:

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Wikimedia.

1. Like other civil rights bills, the ADA didn’t work as intended right away and was only the first step in a long process to advance civil rights for individuals with disabilities. 

Twenty seven years ago, former Senator Tom Harkin, the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, proclaimed: “The ADA is indeed the 20th century emancipation proclamation for all Americans with disabilities.” He likely wasn’t aware of how unfortunately prophetic those words would become.

Harkin intended to celebrate the major breakthrough of passing comprehensive civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The law ultimately requires that buildings and transportation be wheelchair accessible, television programming have closed captioning, and that individuals with disabilities be provided with appropriate workplace accommodations.

Yet similar to the emancipation proclamation which did not end slavery, the ADA did not immediately grant full civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The path from ADA passage to ensuring individuals with disabilities received the access Congress intended included a series of setbacks. In 1999 the Supreme Court restricted the reach of the ADA’s protections by narrowly construing the definition of disability. As a result, individuals with a wide range of impairments — including cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, multiple sclerosis, HIV, intellectual disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder — were routinely found not to be disabled and therefore not covered by the ADA. This lead to the eventual passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which reversed those decisions by broadening the definition of disability under the law. These Amendments also extended protections to individuals using a variety of supports including cochlear implants, hearing aids, and prosthetics.

2. Before passage of the ADA, many students with disabilities were not being educated at all.

Prior to the ADA, large numbers of children with disabilities were systematically excluded from American public schools. Many have estimated that in the early 1970s, approximately one million school-aged children with disabilities were excluded from public educational programs. Moreover, an additional three million children with disabilities attended public schools but were not provided services to meet their educational needs.

3. The ADA applies to non-religious private schools and private universities even if they do not receive federal funding.

Unless subject to the exemption for religious organizations, private schools must comply with the public accommodations portion of the ADA and ADAAA. This means private schools must ensure students with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or treated differently than other students. These schools must also make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny access unless this would result in a fundamental change in the nature of their program or result in undue administrative costs.

4. While accessibility extends to websites, the standard for web accessibility is an unsettled area of the law.

When originally enacted, the ADA did not include websites as places of “public accommodation” because the internet was still in its infancy. As internet usage has become ubiquitous and an unlimited number of goods and services have been made available online, courts have interpreted places of public accommodation to include websites.

During the Obama administration, the Office of Civil Rights required schools to make their websites accessible to the disabled. Yet, currently there is no clear legal standard that has been adopted for schools to follow. While the Department of Justice has asked for public input on website accessibility issues, their proposed rules have been delayed several times and are expected to be released in 2018.

School Voucher Programs for Students with Disabilities Are Deeply Misguided

The Trump administration’s newly proposed education budget directs $400 million dollars to expanding school choice, including vouchers for private schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has repeatedly touted state voucher policies, including Florida’s McKay Scholarship program for students with disabilities, as a way to increase parental choice and improve the U.S. education system. DeVos cited high parent satisfaction with the McKay program during her Senate confirmation hearing, leading to national press coverage of parents who were in fact unsatisfied with the program.

But the reality is parent satisfaction is an inappropriate metric for examining the effectiveness of programs like the McKay Scholarship. A voucher program for students with disabilities presumes that providing choice will ultimately result in helping students with disabilities receive an education that will best meet their needs. But this is unlikely because private schools do not have to abide by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, and few private schools are well equipped to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

In a recent op-ed, Former Governor Jeb Bush writes: “Too many parents hit frustrating dead ends in trying to get the right services for their children in their assigned public schools.” While it is certainly true that parents struggle to make changes when they are unhappy with their child’s placement or his/her individualized education plan (IEP), there is little reason to believe school choice is the answer. Currently, many parents do not understand their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents also may feel uncomfortable bringing due process claims and/or lack access to legal assistance. Moreover, even for those with legal assistance, due process claims can be time consuming and costly. As a result, researchers have found that IDEA’s reliance on private enforcement leads to disparities in enforcement which ultimately favor the affluent.

Voucher programs do little to change this reality.

Currently, under the Florida program, parents receive an average of $8,000 for their child with a disability. This is not enough funding for students to attend private schools specifically designed to serve special needs students without extra outlays from parents. Instead, many students enroll in parochial schools, which make up the majority of private schools in Florida. There is little reason to believe these schools are a better placement for students with disabilities. Most do not employ school psychologists, related service providers, or teachers experienced with meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Since these schools are not required to comply with IDEA, they do not provide occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, behavioral therapy, or counseling. Moreover, these schools are not required to use any specialized curriculum to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities. So using a voucher means a student with a disability will still not receive the services they need to be successful in school. Continue reading

3 Big Myths About Child Care on Equal Pay Day

Last week, the internet Greek chorus turned its attention to a previously wonky topic: DC’s educational requirements for child care workers. A Washington Post article highlighted that DC is first in the nation to require higher education for child care workers, and a plethora of commenters took to Twitter to criticize the policy. Various individuals commented on the “stupidness” of this new policy. For example, Senator Ben Sasse tweeted: “This is insanely stupid.” Economist Alan Cole tweeted: “What’s the endgame for someone who can’t make it through college? Are they going to be allowed to do things anymore?” The article transformed into a Rorschach test revealing Americans’ antiquated view of child care.

Baby Bottle Robot 

The reality is that many Americans still view child care through a prism of babysitting. They desire the cheapest option: a safe baby with a caregiver of minimum capability, like someone who can easily read aloud to their child. As a result, many parents overrate the quality of their child’s day care. But the reality is child care is complex and skilled work that remains deeply undervalued. And today as throughout history, it’s work mostly performed by women.

Today, on Equal Pay Day, let’s pause and consider three persistent myths about child care, which ultimately hold women back from achieving equal pay with men:

MYTH #1: Child care is menial work which can be done by anyone.

Many critics of the new credential requirements in Washington, DC implied that child care is necessarily low-wage work because it requires minimal skill. Commenters were unified in asserting that high-quality care-taking did not require specific competencies and in undervaluing the actual work of nurturing and addressing the demanding needs of small children. These viewpoints belie the reality that adults who educate young children require knowledge and competencies as specialized as those of an elementary, middle school, or high school teacher. A successful early childhood teacher needs to understand child development; language development; and how to foster early literacy, early numeracy, and positive socio-emotional development, among other skills. Continue reading

Three Lessons for Reforming State Early Childhood Systems “In Crisis”

preschool teacherLast week, Massachusetts’ House Speaker Robert DeLeo declared his state’s early childhood workforce “in crisis.” How did he come to this conclusion? A year ago, DeLeo asked local business leaders to examine the state’s early childhood education system, and last week they released a report showing unacceptably low salaries and high turnover among early childhood educators in the state.

But Massachusetts is no anomaly. If we applied the criteria used by the Massachusetts Advisory Group to any state in the country, that state’s early childhood workforce would also be deemed “in crisis.”

So what can state legislators serious about reforming their early childhood workforce do? Past efforts to improve public pre-k programs and federal efforts to professionalize the Head Start workforce offer several lessons. Continue reading

A Very American Story: Access Determined by Zip Code

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We’ve accepted in American political discourse and rhetoric that “a zip code should not determine a child’s future.” But our public policies have a long way to go, especially in the domain of early childhood education, one of the most effective policy strategies for ensuring low-income children are prepared for academic and lifelong success. In fact, a report published last month by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reveals that an eligible child’s access to Head Start — the only federal pre-k program — is constrained by where he/she resides.

Head Start was first instituted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’’s War on Poverty. The program served low-income children long before most states adopted state-funded pre-k programs and specifically aimed to ameliorate the effects of growing up in poverty through comprehensive child development programs. Started as a niche summer program that served 560,000 children, today Head Start serves nearly one million children across the country year round.

NIEER’s State(s) of Head Start is the first report in Head Start’s 50-year history to examine Head Start enrollment, funding, quality, and duration across the states. It reveals that only 18% of low-income three-year-olds and 21 percent of low-income four-year-olds receive Head Start services. Additionally, it shows that access to Head Start varies greatly by state. For example, among three- and four-year-olds living in poverty, 100% of eligible children in North Dakota attended Head Start programs in 2014-2015, whereas just 16% of eligible children in Nevada were enrolled in Head Start programs. In other words a poor three- or four-year-old in Nevada has less than a one in five chance of attending Head Start, while a poor child in North Dakota has a 100% chance of attending Head Start.

Even less three-year-olds living in poverty across the country have access to Head Start. The number of enrolled three-year-olds as a percent of children in poverty ranges from 2.7% in Nevada to 13% in the District of Columbia. The picture for low-income children in Nevada is concerning. There is a large population of children living in poverty, but the state has the lowest percentage of children living in poverty enrolled in Head Start of any state. In certain states the lack of Head Start spots would be less concerning because they have robust state pre-k programs that serve a high percentage of low-income children. This is not the case in Nevada.  Nevada’s public pre-k program is not serving these vulnerable children. Overall, only 6.72% of four-year-olds in the state are enrolled in Head Start or state funded pre-k.

Further complicating access inequities is the fact that states with large Hispanic populations are receiving less money per child enrolled in Head Start. Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas — all states with large Latinx populations — receive less funding per Head Start child than the national average.

In the report, authors Barnett and Friedman-Krauss write: “We can think of no reason that poor children in one state are less deserving of a strong early childhood program than those in another.”

So what actually explains these inequities? Continue reading