2015 Special Education Legislative Summit Highlights


Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) is presented with a 2015 Outstanding Public Service Award.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) is presented with a 2015 Outstanding Public Service Award.

Last year’s Summit marked the first joint advocacy event between CEC and its special interest division, the Council of Administrators of Special Education, resulting in the broadest representation of special education, gifted education, and early intervention — and the biggest impact on Capitol Hill — in CEC’s advocacy history. As in year’s past, Children and Youth Action Network Coordinators, who lead CEC’s grassroots advocacy efforts for states and divisions year round, continued to be an integral part of the event.

The Summit’s star-studded line-up of speakers, along with hot-topic presentations, updates and break-out sessions, provided the training and preparation the advocates — teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, early interventionists and teachers in training — needed before they headed to the Hill, where the policies that affect the children and youth we serve are made.

Particularly exciting for this Summit, and adding to its historical significance, while advocates were hard at work within the halls of Congressional offices, lawmakers were busy inside the U.S. Capitol debating the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Some lucky advocates even had the opportunity to actually listen to the debate and witness the votes in the Senate gallery!

Thanks to these dedicated advocates, the collective voice of special education was heard loud and clear in the halls of Congress, and our students’ success stories provided excellent examples of how federal investments in special education, gifted education and early intervention pay off in individuals who are college- and career-ready.

Hats off to the 2015 Special Education Legislative Summit attendees, who overcame the jitters of meeting with their representatives to boldly, proudly and effectively share CEC’s messages with Washington, D.C., decision makers.

Sunday, July 12

Getting briefed.  The Summit kicked off on Sunday night with an intensive review of the nine issue briefs the advocates would use as the basis for their discussions on Capitol Hill Day.  They studied the background, summary points and CEC’s recommendations for the following issues:

  • Investing in Special & Gifted Education: Impacting 10 Million Children & Families
  • Promoting Access & Achievement for Children and Youth with Exceptionalities in PK-12 Education
  • Improving Outcomes for Children with Disabilities Through High-Quality Early Learning Programs
  • Preparing Future Educators to Meet the Needs of Children with Disabilities
  • Special Education Research & Development: Supporting Educational Excellence for Children & Youth with Disabilities
  • A False Choice: Why Voucher Programs are Wrong for Students with Disabilities
  • Expanding the Federal Role in Gifted Education
  • School Climate and Mental Health
  • IDEA Maintenance of Effort

Read the issue briefs.

Getting their advocacy on.  Attendees heard from Myrna Mandalawitz, the governmental relations consultant for CEC’s special interest division The Council of Administrators of Special Education (CASE) on policy makers, policymaking and the research and relationship building that needs to be done before you step up to the advocacy plate. View Mandalawitz’s presentation.

Monday, July 13

Don’t be timid!  Advocates were treated to Opening Session Keynote Speaker Jack Jennings, author of the new book Presidents, Congress and the Public Schools:  The Politics of Education Reform. In his remarks, Jennings challenged the advocates to remember the significance of the messages they carry to their members of Congress, and to be bold, not timid in asking for support of special education issues.  Jennings’ admonition that “if you’re not working on your own agenda, you’re working on someone else’s” particularly resonated with the advocates.
Read more about Jennings and his book.

Following the Opening Session, advocates heard from federal education experts and representatives of the U.S. Department of Education on the following topics:

Caps, Cuts, Sequesters and Squeezes, Joel Packer, Executive Director of the Committee on Education Funding.  View Packer’s presentation.

Improving Outcomes for Young Children Through High Quality Early Learning Programs, Libby Dogget, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education.

Reauthorization of ESEA and HEA: The Perspective from Capitol Hill, Brad Thomas, Senior Education  Policy Advisor, Education and the Workforce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives; and Valerie Williams, Kennedy Fellow, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, U.S. Senate.

Breakout sessions rounded out the afternoon on the following topics:

Education Sciences Reform Act Reauthorization: Supporting Educational Excellence, Deb Ziegler, Director, Policy and Advocacy, CEC. View Ziegler’s presentation.

School Climate:  Policy Levers for Mental Health Services, Kelly Vaillancourt, Director, Government and Professional Relations, National Association for School Psychologists. View Vaillancourt’s presentation.

Talking about “Gifted” in ESEA, Jane Clarenback, Director, Public Education, National Association of Gifted Children. View Clarenback’s presentation.

A False Choice: Why Voucher Programs are Wrong for Students with Disabilities, Susan Nogan, Associate Director, Education Policy and Practice, National Education Association. View Nogan’s presentation.

Hitting the Hill:  How to Present Your Advocacy Messages and Make an Impact, Phyllis Wolfram, Chair, Governmental Relations, CASE; Deb Ziegler, Director, Policy and Advocacy, CEC. View the presentation.

Rounding out the information-jammed day for the advocates was an update from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) by Ruth Ryder, Deputy Director of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) of OSEP, U.S. Department of Education.  Advocates also enjoyed a evening reception with special guest Sue Swenson, Deputy Secretary, OSERS, U.S. Department of Education, who brought greetings and wished the advocates good luck on their Capitol Hill visits.

Tuesday, July 14

They came, they advocated, they stormed the halls of Congress!  The much-anticipatedCapitol Hill Day, brought 165 special education advocates representing 34 states into the offices of 188 members of Congress. They bore messages of portability, highly qualified teachers, accountability for students with disabilities, early childhood education, gifted education, and advocating for CEC’s recommendations for the reauthorization of ESEA.

Special Breakfast Guest Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin. With her warm and personable presence, Rep. Moore put the advocates at ease and gave them great advice:  Don’t go into anyone’s office with your head down, hoping that they’ll listen you you.  Go in with your head held high and the knowledge that your work and your words are important to your students. Rep. Moore, who was introduced by CEC President Jim Heiden, Superintendent of the Cudahy, Wisconsin, School District, and a constituent of Moore’s with whom she has discussed special education issues, told the advocates that relationships are everything on Capitol Hill, and it’s critical to get to know your representatives.

2015 Outstanding Public Service Awards.  This year’s Outstanding Public Service Awards recipients are Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

At the Capitol Hill kick-off breakfast, Sen. Barbara Mikulski was presented with the CEC Outstanding Public Service Award. Throughout her long career, Sen. Mikulski has consistently focused on addressing the needs of children and youth and their families, calling for full funding of IDEA, and co-sponsoring funding bills for IDEA in every Congress. She also strongly supported provisions within the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which increased services and supports in higher education for students with disabilities, and her efforts led to the enactment of landmark legislation, Rosa’s Law, important legislation that removed an outdated term from federal law and removed the stigma for individuals with disabilities and replaced it with a term that affords them the dignity they deserve.

Later in the day, CEC met with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to present her with a 2015 Outstanding Public Service Award. Rep. McMorris Rodgers has supported programs across the lifespan, which positively impact individuals with disabilities, including working to increase educational opportunities, remove employment disincentives, encourage community living, advance research, modernize Medicaid, and simplify the tax code to better suit the needs of individuals with disabilities. She is the co-founder of the Congressional Down Syndrome Caucus, which she now co-chairs, and also is the co-chair of the Disability Caucus in the House of Representatives. Rep. McMorris Rodgers was a sponsor of the ABLE Act, which allows for families to start savings accounts for their children with disabilities in an effort to save for higher education opportunities.

Wednesday, July 15

After the rousing success of Capitol Hill Day, advocates came together for a debriefing session.  Speakers helped put the whirlwind of Tuesday’s activities into perspective for the advocates and the advocates themselves shared with one another their experiences and their successes.
Taking What You’ve Experienced Back to Your Community and What We Learned on Capitol Hill, Phyllis Wolfram, CASE, and Deb Zeigler, CEC

How Social Media Will Get Your Message Out to the Grassroots Advocates in Your Community, Justin Beland, Senior Director, Health Practice, Social Driver. View Beland’s presentation.

ENGAGE: CEC’s Legislative Action Center, Alicia Michaels, Senior Account Executive, CQ Roll Call

Check out more of the fun our advocates had in the photo gallery below, and make sure you save the date for next year’s Special Education Legislative Summit, July 10-13, 2016!


Click an image to open the gallery.