2018 Issue #12

Issue 12, 12/28/2018

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It's a new year, and a new legislative session is about to start.  With the rush of the elections and holidays behind us, now is the time for advocates to gear up and set some goals.  What issues are important to you?  Are there things you'd like to see changed?  Are there changes to programs that would help you live more independently, find or keep jobs, or simply move around in your community better?

We're here to help you achieve those goals.  Our next issue of INFONET will have a new look for the new year, and we plan to focus more on a few issues that we know our readers say are important, like public transportation, jobs, savings accounts, and housing.  Also ahead this year is our new "2019-2020 Guide to the Iowa Legislature" (in your mailboxes mid-January), Advocating for Change Day 2019 (April 10), lots of updates to our public forums list, and video advocacy tips and updates from a variety of experts.

So get ready to put those new year's resolutions into action!  In the words of William Faulkner, "Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world...would do this, it would change the earth.”   

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There will be many new faces in the Iowa Legislature when the legislative session begins on Monday, January 14.  This is the first session of the new two-year "General Assembly," which means legislators will be in Des Moines working until early May.  Most legislators drive into town on Monday morning, and leave Thursday afternoon.  They spend Friday-Sunday back home in their districts, hosting public forums, meeting with local groups, talking to constituents, and of course, spending time with their families.  

A few notes about this session:

  • Legislators have until February 15 to ask for bills.  Committee chairs have longer, but any individual legislator wanting to "sponsor" a bill (that is, have their name on it) must have that request in by Friday, February 15.
  • There are two deadlines that are important in the Iowa Legislature, called "funnels."  The first funnel is on Friday, March 8 (when bills must be passed out of a committee).  The second funnel is on Friday, April 5 (when bills have to be passed out of the House or Senate, and then out of committee in the other chamber).  
  • Legislators get a "per diem" to cover expenses while they live in Des Moines.  This year, their per diems end after 110 days (May 3).  Legislators can and often do work beyond that deadline, but they have to cover their own mileage, meals, and hotels.  After May 3, they also lose their clerks, who do their filing, correspondance, and other office work.
  • Advocating for Change Day is on April 10.  Put it on your calendars now, and we will let you know more about registration in the coming weeks.

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2018 probably should be called the year of the report.  Legislators directed state agencies to convene dozens of work groups and committees over the summer and fall to make recommendations on various issues.  Those work groups (at least 20 that we were tracking) invested hundreds of hours diving into these issues, and their reports are now availble for review.  You can read our previous article on these work groups here.

While some reports will not be finalized until mid-January, many have already been posted online.  Here is a quick review of some of the biggest recommendations that lawmakers may consider in 2019:

  • Establish a stable and predictable long-term funding structure for regional mental health and disability services that is appropriate to fully implement the vision of redesign and to support growth and innovation over time. Similarly, some work groups would like to remove the requirement that regions spend down their fund balances and remove the levy cap to allow regions to set a property tax rate that is fair and sufficient to fund services.
  • Equalize reimbursement for substance use providers, change to the way MH/DS community provider tiered rates are calculated (taking funding from Tiers 1 & 2, and moving to Tiers 4 & 5), eliminate or reduce waiting lists or wait times for the Medicaid Home and Community Based Waiver program, and ensure sufficient Medicaid reimbursement for new "complex needs" services.  In addition, several groups have warned against the shifting of financial responsibility from Medicaid to MH/DS regions. 
  • Begin development of a children’s mental health and disability services system which has sustainable funding and which utilizes a full array of nationally recognized, evidence-based models of care.  This includes age-appropriate, universal behavioral health screenings to identify children needing behavioral health services (by July 1, 2020), development of rules for core services for children with identified behavioral health service needs (by March 2020), and making the Children's Mental Health Board permanent (by July 1, 2019). 
  • Establish a Home Modification grant program to help homeowners with disabilities or serious health conditions modify their homes to maintain safe, independent living options.
  • Assure continued efforts to provide choice in membership to managed care organization and ensure an orderly transition when adding managed care organizations.
  • Expand the availability, knowledge, skills, and compensation of professionals, paraprofessionals, and direct support workers as an essential element in building community capacity and enhancing statewide access to a comprehensive system of quality mental health and disability services. 
  • Maintain a robust Medicaid Program with a full array of services that serves its members, and ensure communications between and among providers, members, and MCOs is clear, consistent, and timely.
You can find these and other reports filed on the legislative website here.  Just select the agency from the drop-down box at the top of the page, and all the reports filed by that agency will be listed.  Here are a few that might interest you:

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ISSUE CLOSE-UP: School Choice

During the last two election cycles, many legislators listed "school choice" and "education reform" as one of their top issues. But what does that mean, and what are the implications for students with disabilities?

Iowa has allowed charter schools since 2002.  These publicly-funded schools are given more flexibility in determining how to meet the needs of their students.  Parents are given a choice to send their kids to their local public school, or one of these charter schools (which are not allowed to charge parents tuition).  In Iowa, there are only two charter schools (Maynard, Storm Lake).

When most Iowans think of school choice, "vouchers" are the first thing that comes to mind.  Vouchers give parents the option to use all or part of the public funds that would have gone to their child's local public school to pay for private school tuition.  In Iowa, parents have the choice to send their kids to private school, but taxpayers do not contribute to that tuition.

According to the 2016–2017 School Choice Yearbook, there are 52 private school choice programs in 26 states and Washington, DC, serving more than 442,000 students. Of these programs there are 11 state voucher programs that are exclusively for students with disabilities: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Five states currently have targeted education savings accounts (ESAs) for students with disabilities: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina (scheduled to start in 2018–2019), and Tennessee. Two states, South Carolina and Arizona, have tax credits (scholarship or individual) for students with disabilities.

The National Council on Disabilities issued a report this month that reviewed these programs, and found:

  • Parents and families using vouchers can lose access to rights; accountability can suffer; and vouchers might only cover a portion of private school cost, leaving a majority of families unable to access any choice at all.
  • In states that operate voucher programs, state agencies are not doing enough to ensure parents are making an informed decision about giving up rights under IDEA and other federal statutes in exchange for public funds and vouchers, when a child with a disability is moved from public to private school.
  • To benefit from a choice program, families need to be able to pay significant amounts from their own pockets for the cost of private school that vouchers do not cover, including transportation and time to coordinate the educational program for their child.
  • Research on choice for students with disabilities is lacking. In the absence of data on discrimination, discipline, segregation, length of time using vouchers, or other programs and outcomes, families, state officials, and advocates are unable to fully understand the consequence and impact of vouchers.
  • For the majority of school voucher programs, if students attend a private school with the vouchers, they must relinquish their rights under IDEA, including the right to assessments paid by the school district, an IEP, free appropriate public education (FAPE), least restrictive environment (LRE), and procedural due process protections for them and their families.

The report offered several recommendations for states considering voucher programs, including:

  • Requiring private schools using vouchers to carry out IDEA obligations.
  • Including key components of special education services, including procedural or substantive requirements, the right to an impartial due process hearing if the private school fails to comply, and IEPs in voucher programs.
  • Requiring private schools participating in voucher programs to adhere to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and be judged according to the budget and resources of the state education agency or local education agency, rather than to the particular private school’s budget.
  • Requiring civil rights of students with disabilities be taken into account when developing programs and fully informing parents about their options and rights when they are making a decision about their child’s education. The report states that much attention is needed to ensure that students with disabilities are protected from discrimination when using vouchers to attend private schools. 
  • Making state departments of education responsible for oversight of voucher programs and collection of data regarding students with disabilities. 

You can read the entire report here.

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Committee assignments for the 2019 legislative session have been finalized and can be found here.

  • Incoming Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks, a physician from Ottumwa who previously served as the Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, will be the new Senate Human Resources Chair. The previous chair, Sen. Mark Segebart, will move to Vice Chair.
  • Sen. Mark Costello of Imogene will remain the Chair of the Senate Health/Human Services Budget Subcommittee, but will be joined by Sen. Jeff Edler as Vice Chair.  Sen. Edler is from State Center, and has been heavily involved in the passage of the Complex Needs legislation and is on the Children's Mental Health & Well-Being Board.
  • Rep. Shannon Lundgren of Peosta will take over as Chair of the House Human Resources Committee, along with VIce Chair Rep. Anne Meyer, a nurse who was just elected from Fort Dodge.
  • Rep. Joel Fry, a social worker and mental health professional from Osceola, will take on the job of chairing the Health/Human Services Budget Subcommittee (with Rep. Mike Bergan of Dorechester as Vice Chair).
  • No changes on the minority side.  The Ames duo of Rep. Lisa Heddens and Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroschell will remain ranking members of the House Health/Human Services Budget Subcommitte and House Human Resources Committee. Sen. Amanda Ragan of Mason City will continue is ranking member of the HHS budget subcommittee, and Sen. Liz Mathis of Cedar Rapids will continue on as ranking member of the Human Resources committee.

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Iowans with Disabilities in Action will provide eight Capitol Day grants up to $500 each for advocacy training and support to local advocacy groups who are interested in meeting with their legislators at the Iowa State Capitol and advocating on behalf of disability-related issues.

The following are the requirements for your group to be eligible to apply for an Iowans with Disabilities in Action Capitol Day grant:

  • Your group must consist of at least 10 people with a disability (no more than 20).
  • Your group must advocate for disability-related issues.
  • Iowans with Disabilities in Action Capitol Day grants cannot be used to attend other organization's lobby days.

As an Iowans with Disabilities in Action Capitol Day grant recipient, your group must:

  • Schedule a Capitol Day on either Tuesday or Wednesday in the months of January through April
  • Participate in an advocacy training at the beginning of the Capitol Day
  • Set appointments with your legislators (Iowans with Disabilities in Action can assist)
  • Provide a written recap of your Capitol Day within two weeks of your visit, including any follow-up communication with legislators

While at the capitol you may also want to participate in the following:

  • Watch a floor debate
  • Attend a committee meeting
  • Meet with other state agencies
  • Meet with Iowans with Disabilities in Action or Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council staff

To apply for an Iowans with Disabilities in Action Capitol Day grant, please fill out the grant application. Call 866-432-2846 or email us at contactus@idaction.org with any questions. Grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis for eligible groups.  

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  Anne Frank

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Iowans with Disabilities in Action is hitting the road and will visit all 99 counties in Iowa over the next two years. We will visit communities throughout Iowa to increase awareness of how we can support Iowans with disabilities and their allies to achieve their goals. Ultimately, we want to get to know you and you to get to know us.

We hope to make the most of each visit by talking with Iowans who are affected by disability, community organizations, partners, elected officials and members of the community.

Why invite us to your community?

Iowans with Disabilities in Action is focused on moving people from taking notice to taking action. To be able to better encourage and support Iowans, we need to have a better understand of what the needs are in communities throughout Iowa. Ask us to visit and share the great things about your community along with the challenges.

How can we help?

Over the last sixteen years, Iowans with Disabilities in Action has developed a wide variety or resources and information to help  Iowans take action. These resources are free and available to anyone who is interested. We are continually developing and creating new resources based on the needs of Iowans. We want to know what the needs are in your community – invite us and share.

Our goal with the State Sweep campaign is to build better relationships with statewide community partners, increase awareness of Iowans with Disabilities in Action, build ongoing, lasting relationships with individuals with disabilities and gain a better understanding of the needs of those we support to be effective advocates for change.

How can we accomplish those goals? We have put together a few ideas to get us started:

  • Individual one-on-one meetings - Share with us a day in your life. Show us where you live, learn, work and play. Tell us what it means for you to live your life with a disability in your community.
  • Partner meetings - Providers, non-profits, community organizations, let's chat about how we can better work together.
  • Community events - Let's bring the community together for a community conversation.
  • Media meetings - We would like to build a relationship with the media outlets in your community.

If you have other ideas, we'd love to hear them. Visit our Contact page today to schedule a visit to your community! 

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