An influx of federal dollars presents an opportunity for leaders to support students with disabilities with new policies and practices.

7 ways to focus stimulus spending on students with disabilities

An influx of federal dollars presents an opportunity for education leaders to support students with disabilities with new policies and practices

Schools and districts are poised to receive an influx of federal dollars that should support students with disabilities and make equity a priority, ensuring that outdated and ineffective special education systems are updated and held to high-quality standards, according to a new report from the Center for Learner Equity.

Students with disabilities and those with special needs are some of the worst-hit during the pandemic, with virtual learning preventing students from accessing vital in-school therapies and programs.

In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which invests $130 billion into education–including $3 billion for IDEA–and gives schools and districts access to funds to directly meet student needs, including students with disabilities and those impacted by socio-economic constraints.

As states, districts, and individual schools contemplate how best to allocate stimulus dollars over the next three years, they face a unique opportunity, according to the report.

There are a number of strategies that districts, schools, and educators should consider in order to help these stimulus funds have the best impact on students–particularly students with disabilities and those who are negatively impacted by the equity gap.

1. Knock down internal barriers: Anticipate and address procurement red tape, explore temporary waivers of state hiring and licensure requirements, and improve facilities and ensure access for all.

2. Quickly get current on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs): Address the backlog of referrals and annual updates, and build capacity to provide related and compensatory services.

3. Assess and screen well: Secure top-notch, effective assessment tools and develop and recalibrate multi-tiered systems of support.

4. Engage families as partners: Invest in family partnerships, build family information hubs, and create a virtual help desk for families of students with disabilities.

5. Address trauma and social-emotional learning (SEL): Prioritize addressing trauma and rethink student discipline.

6. Provide rich learning opportunities: Find ways to expand learning time, create robust and differentiated learning opportunities, and adopt Universal Design for Learning.

7. Anticipate lingering impacts of the pandemic: Make technology part of the solution and invest in essential tech training.

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Laura Ascione
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