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COPAA Opposes Sketchy Plan to Merge the Departments of Education and Labor

Thursday, June 21, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall


COPAA, a leader in the efforts to protect the rights of students with disabilities, opposes the proposal to merge the U.S. Department of Education into the U.S. Department of Labor, contained in the Administration’s Government Reform and Reorganization Plan.[1] The merger would be detrimental to all students, particularly students with disabilities and learning differences.


The reorganization plan, entitled Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century, offers no specifics about the proposed merger of the Department of Education into the Department of Labor.  Instead, there is but one short paragraph on page 24 that addresses K-12 education. A chart on page 26 shows K-12 education and K-12 programs in two administrative islands, cut off from the Office of Civil Rights, Research, Evaluation and Administration, and Higher Education Programs.  Indeed, the plan affords the reader no glimpse of what will happen to our children’s educational administration. More concerning than the vague plan is the apparent lack of consideration for the fate of students, particularly those with disabilities, under such a proposal.  No comments are made in the plan about the impact the proposed merger will have on their rights under federal laws. To date, the administration’s actions have undermined public education programs. 


While COPAA has had disagreements with actions of the Department of Education, particularly in the last 18 months, we recognize that the Department plays an important leadership role in monitoring and enforcement, review of statutorily required state plans, setting standards, investigating abuses, and channeling funding to ensure that the right of children with disabilities to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, as established by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), is safeguarded.  Combined with recent efforts of the Department to curtail rights of marginalized groups it seems fairly certain that this move would further dilute safeguards under current law. Long before the creation of the Department of Education in 1979, conservatives have argued against any federal involvement in education.  The effort to end the Department of Education as an independent entity is merely the latest manifestation of this decades-old campaign.  But public education with federal research, oversight and standards is of critical importance for bettering outcomes and preparing a national workforce.  The need is particularly acute for students with disabilities.  Society pays a huge price if the students are not provided with the skills they need to live and work independently.   Nothing in the Administration’s proposal advances independence for students with disabilities.


The right of a student with a disability to a quality education is a fundamental civil right.  As such, it is not something that can be varied at the whim of each state.  Rather, the right needs to be protected on a national basis by a government committed to protecting civil rights.  Restructuring the U.S. Department of Education as proposed would mark yet another significant retreat in the protection of the civil rights of students with disabilities.

[1] The Government Reform and Reorganization Plan can be found here, with the chapter, “Department of Education and the Workforce” starting on page 23.

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