Lawmakers introduce bill to strengthen special education services

While affirming special education is a right, U.S. Senator Ed Markey lauds Perkins as a model for the rest of the country

A teacher sits and works with a young girl who is deafblind pressing a switch.

Teacher Wendy Buckley works with a student in Perkins' famous Deafblind Program.

October 24, 2019

U.S. lawmakers introduced on Wednesday a piece of bipartisan legislation that aims to strengthen and build on educational resources and evaluation measures for blind, deaf and deafblind children throughout the country. 

Filed by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act would, among other things, require states to identify and evaluate children; encourage states to commit to specialized instruction and trained personnel; and establish a national resource center for students with visual disabilities.

While creating new services, the bill would also establish strong accountability measures around their delivery, in part by providing parents and educators with regular written policy guidance from the Department of Education. 

“A quality education is a right that all students deserve in the 21st century,” said Sen. Markey in a press statement. “Every student deserves the chance to exercise their skills in the classroom, and it is our duty to make sure every student has the resources they need to achieve that goal.”

Markey, who has for years been advocating for this legislation, went on to laud Perkins School for the Blind as a model for the rest of the country, calling it a “shining example for providing accessible high-quality education.”

Indeed, the bill itself makes reference to the school’s history, as its named after Anne Sullivan, who famously taught Helen Keller at Perkins. (Alice Cogswell, for whom the bill is also named, was the first deaf student in the country to receive a formal education.) 

The country’s first school for the blind, Perkins has long both advocated for inclusive policy and shared its expertise with public educators across the country. For that reason, Perkins President and CEO Dave Power said the organization was proud to join the bipartisan effort to insist on “greater accountability and resources in support of the education and unlimited potential of these students.”

He continued, “Nearly two centuries of working with students who are blind, deafblind and visually impaired has reinforced Perkins’ unwavering belief in this truth: every child can learn.” 

The bill was designed to strengthen the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act, which became law just a few short months after the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

A companion bill has been filed in the House of Representatives by Reps. Matt Cartwright (PA-08) and David McKinley (WV-01) while the Senate bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. 

We will provide follow-up coverage on the bill’s movements through Congress, which can also be tracked here

Read the bill in its entirety here.