Senate Passed ESEA Reauthorization
Last week, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the reauthorization of S 1, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA is a large public education bill that includes funding for such things as Title I, school repairs, technology in the classroom, and charter schools. The reauthorization that passed in the Senate, includes an $11.5 billion increase in funding and a bipartisan commitment to full funding of IDEA (the Individual with Disabilities Education Act). Last month, the House passed a similar education bill. The bill will now go to a House-Senate conference that is anticipated to wrap up by the end of August. During the conference, several items will need to be reconciled, such as the cost of the education package and the full funding of IDEA, which was not contained in the House version.
For NAMI members, families, and children with severe mental illness key items in this legislation include provisions on school discipline, full funding of IDEA and an amendment to increase coordination of mental health services in schools. The discipline amendment that was introduced by Senator Jeff Session (R-AL) passed by a voice vote after a 50-50 tie last Thursday. The Sessions amendment will weaken the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by eroding the protections for students with disabilities, including children with severe mental illnesses by allowing schools to cease education services for a school violation. Under the amendment, even if a school provides educational services to students who are suspended or expelled, it would not be required to provide a free appropriate public education to a student with a disability.
S 1 also includes an amendment introduced by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). The amendment would establish a grant program to develop and enhance links between local education agencies and mental illness treatment programs. This marks an important step forward in helping communities establish agreements among the school districts and other education agencies and the systems that traditionally serve children and adolescents living with mental illness (e.g., mental health agencies and juvenile justice authorities).
NAMI applauds the efforts of Senators Domenici and Kennedy for introducing an amendment that would improve diagnostic, and treatment services available to students (through replication of evidence-based diagnostic screening tools such as the DISC). Expanding the use of the DISC, (Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children) in schools and juvenile justice has been a priority for NAMI. This amendment would also provide crisis intervention services and appropriate referrals for students in need of treatment services and assist in educating teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel about available mental illness treatment services for children and adolescents.
The U.S Surgeon General reports that in the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause impairment. Yet in any given year, fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment. The report also states that there is sweeping evidence that the nation lacks a unified infrastructure to help these children and many are falling through the cracks. Too often, children who are not identified as having mental health problems and who do not receive services end up in the juvenile justice system.