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Image: Post-Secondary Special Education

DeVos: “Federal Funds to be used in Post-secondary Options”

On September 17, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos clarified that the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds can be utilized to assist with dual enrollment, comprehensive transition services, and other post-secondary education programs for students with disabilities. In response, the U.S. Department of Education supplied a question and answer (Q&A) guide following some confusion about whether and when these federal funds could be applied to help students with disabilities gain access to these important educational opportunities.

The Q&A guide, issued jointly by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) and the Office of Post-secondary Education (OPE), illustrates how state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, local educational agencies (LEAs), and state educational agencies (SEAs) may coordinate to assist students with disabilities in planning for post-secondary opportunities and success. As you likely know, VR agencies may coordinate with the LEAs to assist students eligible under IDEA who are dually enrolled in secondary and post-secondary education programs, including comprehensive transition programs (CTPs) and other post-secondary education programs.  The question is, however, which agency – the VR or LEA – is responsible for providing and/or paying for pre-employment transition services or transition services considered to be both a special education and a VR service? According to the Q&A guide, such determinations are to be made at the State level.  In response to our inquiry as to what the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) determination is for payment and provision of such services, PDE indicated that, “[The Bureau of Special Education] will continue to work collaboratively with OVR to support students with disabilities to successfully transition from school to life.”  Because this response does not answer questions about payment or provision of services, Stock and Leader continues to communicate with PDE for a response more specific to the inquiry.

What we know from the Q&A guide: If a student’s IEP Team determines that the student’s needs can best be met through involvement in dual enrollment programs accessible on college campuses or in community-based settings, and classes from those programs are considered to meet secondary school education requirements by the state, the IEP Team could include those services in the student’s IEP and designate them as transition services. Students with disabilities may also use VR funds when they are dually enrolled in secondary and post-secondary education programs, including comprehensive transition and post-secondary programs, depending on whether they have qualified for the VR program and have an approved IEP, or whether they require only pre-employment transition services. Pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act and consistent with their IEP,  eligible students who have completed, or are slated to complete, a bachelor’s degree program could receive support such as tuition assistance when seeking VR services to attain an advanced degree in a field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (including computer science), medicine, law, or business.

As always, please contact the Stock and Leader School Law Practice Group with any questions or concerns regarding this DeVos guidance or other areas of law.

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