There is an old adage that says: “You’re only young once.” This is particularly true in the world of special education – children in school have only one chance to receive the education they need to successfully transition into adulthood.
In 2014, the District of Columbia promised to improve special education for students with disabilities when it enacted a series of critical legislative reforms. The 2014 Special Education Reforms included, among other things, increased access to early intervention services, shortened wait times for eligibility evaluations, and an earlier start to postsecondary transition planning. Yet, unfortunately, this legislation has not gone into effect because it remains unfunded. Quality Trust is part of a coalition of special education advocates saying “enough is enough” (Special Education in DC – A Continuing Crisis.pdf) It is time for the District to keep its promise to students with disabilities and fully fund these reforms.
We are focusing today’s blog post on why it is so important to require school-to-adult transition planning to start earlier. Special education students in the District are at a significant disadvantage when compared to their peers, from early childhood through high school. In 2015, less than half of children with disabilities – 46% – graduated with a diploma. D.C. does not publicize what percentage of students receive the less valuable “certificate of completion.” Based on the most recent audited data regarding special education performance, only 37% of students with disabilities were enrolled in any post-secondary school or training or employed within one year of leaving high school. Starting transition services and planning is necessary to the closing this achievement gap.
The time between the age of 16 – when transition planning is currently required to begin in D.C. – and the end of high school passes in the blink of an eye, especially for families who are unfamiliar with post-secondary services in the District, who face economic or linguistic barriers to access, or who are ensconced in the day-to-day life of supporting a child with a disability. Quality Trust frequently works with students in special education who are between ages 18 to 22 and who have no meaningful school-to-adult transition plan in place, have no access to crucial post-secondary supports and services, and are unaware that such services even exist. These students deserve a fair shot at success when they exit high school, and the best way to ensure they get that is to start transition planning earlier, at the age of 14.
The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), one of the District agencies that provides post-secondary services, receives special federal funding to work with students in special education in planning for adulthood. Implementing the 2014 Special Education Reforms would open up this funding to provide vital services to students with disabilities who are fourteen and fifteen years old, instead of waiting until they are half-way through high school to start the conversation.
This is one of the reasons why we are asking Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, Hanseul Kang, DC’s Superintendent of Education, and Mayor Muriel Bowser to ensure that the 2014 Special Education Reforms are fully funded in the 2019 budget.
Three years is long enough. It is time for the District to keep its promise to students with disabilities and make the most of their one chance to plan the path to graduation and future success.
Author: Jessica A. Bronson, Staff Attorney