After months of debate, Congress voted on December 18 to approve a landmark education package (HR 1) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The education bill, which was also titled the "No child left behind Act of 2001," contains many of the educational reforms that are President Bush's top domestic priority. The President is expected to sign the measure into law early next year. Additional details and the full text of the House-Senate agreement on HR 1 is available at: http://edworkforce.house.gov/issues/107th/education/nclb/nclb.htm.
Among the many provisions in this bill, HR 1 authorizes $26.5 billion in federal spending on elementary and secondary education, and includes many new standards for schools and testing requirements for students in math and reading. Although issues concerning full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and school discipline were among some of the most debated issues, no provisions on either issue were included in the final bill approved by Congress.
One of the amendments under consideration was mandatory full federal funding of IDEA that would have required the federal government to reimburse schools 40% for special education programs, as stated by law. During the House-Senate conference on the bill, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) who has been a strong proponent of fully funding IDEA offered a modified amendment that would have put off any spending increases until 2003 or until after the reauthorization of IDEA. However, House conferees rejected Sen. Harkin's proposal and full funding of IDEA is not included in the final version of HR 1. NAMI will continue to advocate that IDEA is fully funded during the reauthorization next year and appreciates the efforts of several members of Congress to make good on the promise to schools for the funding of special education programs. It is also important to note that no provisions on school discipline for students protected under IDEA were included in the final education bill.
Also of importance to NAMI members were provisions to increase access to treatment and services for children with severe mental illnesses. Included in the final package is a new federal grant program that will help communities establish agreements among the school districts, 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). This program is intended to better coordinate mental illness treatment services and supports by improving the diagnostic, and treatment services available to students through replication of evidence-based diagnostic screening tools, providing crisis intervention services, appropriate referrals for students in need of treatment services, and educating teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel about available mental illness treatment services for children and adolescents.
A second grant program is authorized in the final bill that will allow for schools to hire more qualified child and adolescent psychiatrists, counselors, psychologists, and social workers and assist in the expansion of school-based mental health programs.
NAMI places the highest value on fostering greater cooperation between local education agencies and the mental illness treatment system and is appreciative of the work done by Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) in including these important provisions to enhance school based mental health care and early intervention/prevention programs.