In March, President Donald Trump signed off on a massive $1.3 trillion federal budget that will fund the government through September. Included in the spending package is $13.1 billion for special education, which is an increase of nearly $300 million from the previous year. This increase in funding comes after several years of consistent monetary cutbacks for programs that people with disabilities rely on.
Included in the funding for special education programs is a line item which requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review data reported to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights about the use of restraint and seclusion for children with special needs. The GAO is expected to evaluate the frequency of cases where restraint or seclusion are used and if schools are making the necessary effort to mitigate these instances. The GAO will also be required to submit reports with recommendations about best practices for reducing incidents.
While restraint and seclusion are encouraged not to be implemented unless absolutely necessary, the spending bill states, “[t]here is concern that seclusion and restraint issues continue to be chronically underreported.” A report by NPR on the number of students who were subject to restraint and seclusion for the 2011-2012 school year found that restraint and seclusion were used 267,000 times, and of those 267,000 instances, 200,250 included children with disabilities.
The spending package also includes Kevin and Avonte’s Law, named in honor of two autistic boys who had wandered off from their caregivers and died as a result when they were unable to be found. The legislation provides $2 million each year until 2022 in the form of grants given to local law enforcement and nonprofit agencies. Preference for funding will be given to “law enforcement or public safety agencies partnering with nonprofit organizations that use person-centered plans and are directly linked to individuals, and families of individuals, with dementia or developmental disabilities,” according to the law.
The funding may also be used to provide community alert systems to help locate people who are susceptible to wandering, supply electronic tracking devices to families who have loved ones susceptible to wandering, and provide training for first responders and other members of the community so that they are better equipped to prevent and handle these cases. Proponents of Kevin and Avonte’s Law have been making efforts to get this legislation through Congress since 2014, and advocates have had their merits bolstered since the first nationwide study of wandering autistic children was released in 2016 and found that one-third of school-age children with autism wander or bolt from adult supervision each year.
Overall, the spending plan provides much-needed aid for special education programs and the inclusion of Kevin and Avonte’s Law will help to give peace of mind to families who have children prone to wandering.