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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Legislative Action Alert: An Act to Provide Equal Access to Evaluations for Children with Disabilities

From Mass. Advocates for Children


January 20, 2015

A Note from Special Education Attorney Robert K. Crabtree: Please lend your support to a bill (SD 1626, HD 1027) just filed by Rep. Tom Sannicandro and Senator Barbara L’Italien, which would establish reasonable rates for payment by school districts for independent educational evaluations (IEEs). Below is a fact sheet prepared by Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

As most who work in our field understand, access to thorough and credible IEE’s is critically important to ensure appropriate special education services for children with disabilities. The current rates for independent evaluations are so far below the rates customarily charged by evaluators that many low- and middle-income parents, who typically need to request that their districts fund IEE’s, cannot obtain an evaluation necessary to advocate for their children.

If you’re interested, now is an important time to e-mail or call your state senator and state representative to ask them to co-sponsor this important legislation. The deadline for legislators to sign on as co-sponsors is January 30. You can identify your State Representative and Senator at http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx.

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An Act to Provide Equal Access to Evaluations for Children with Disabilities

Lead Sponsors: Rep. Tom Sannicandro and Sen. Barbara L’Italien
House Docket No. 1027; Senate Docket No. 1626

Key Facts
  • This bill establishes reasonable rates for independent educational evaluations, which are critically important to ensure appropriate special education services for children with disabilities. Rates would have to be reviewed every three years and adjusted as necessary.
  • Educators and parents rely on educational evaluations to determine the special education services necessary for the child’s individualized education program (IEP). State and federal special education laws give parents the right to fully participate, as equal members of the IEP Team, in the development of their child’s IEP. Independent educational evaluations provide the only way for parents to exercise those rights and participate effectively in this process in the unusual situation where they disagree with a school district evaluation.
  • State and federal special education laws give parents the right to request an independent education evaluation, paid by the school district, if they disagree with the school district’s evaluation, but currently, the rates set by the state for independent evaluations are far below the rates customarily charged by evaluators. This means that many low-income and middle-income parents cannot obtain the evaluation necessary to effectively participate on the IEP Team.
  • For example, the state rate for a neuropsychological evaluation is set at an hourly rate that is 28% lower than Medicare and 38% lower than BlueCross/Blue Shield. The state maximum rate is $900, while $2,500 or more is the rate charged by private evaluators. Neuropsychological evaluations are often the most important evaluation in determining a student’s educational needs and paramount to developing an appropriate IEP.
  • The bill would require that rates be established at a level that allows parents to have a choice of qualified evaluators, as required by the United States Department of Education. [1] The bill also requires that rates include observation of the student and other critical aspects of a valid assessment.
  • In addition, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals would be able to order a higher rate in extraordinary cases. Further, In the rare instances that parents prevail at a hearing and have paid expert fees, the parents would have the right to be reimbursed for these fees by the school district.
  • This bill helps to level the playing field for low-income and middle-income families, with modest costs: increased rate costs are estimated at approximately $500,000-$750,000 statewide.

For more information, please contact Johanne Pino at 617-357-8431, ext. 234 or by email to: jpino@massadvocates.org.

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[1] The United States Department of Education has explained that rates for independent educational evaluations must “allow parents to choose from among the qualified professionals in the area”. Letter to Anonymous, Office of Special Education Programs, United States Department of Education, 22 IDELR 637 (February 2, 1995).

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