It must be education legislation pre-file day today! State Representative Earl Jaques with a Senate sponsorship by Senator Margaret Rose Henry pre-filed House Bill #292. This legislation is very similar to the 148th General Assembly’s Senate Bill #92 which failed to get out of the Appropriations Committee due to state budget constraints. The key difference between HB #292 and SB #92 is the fiscal note was lowered for the new bill. I love that Alex Eldreth, a longtime advocate for students with Autism in Delaware, is honored with this bill. Eldreth, from Autism Delaware, passed away in November of 2017.
This Act implements the recommendations of the March 2015 Autism Educational Task Force report regarding § 1332 of Title 14, the Program for Children with Autism and its Special Staff. Enacted nearly three decades ago, this law established a network of educational programs initially within a separate school structure known as The Delaware Autism Program (DAP). Today, this network continues as a combination of both separate school programs and within local school district support services. However, the current model does not reflect current practices in special education, especially regarding inclusive education, and parents’ desire to have their children educated in their local communities. In addition, the increase in students with an educational classification of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) has made it difficult for the Statewide Director to provide the level of services and support that once was offered. This Act establishes the qualifications and duties of the Statewide Director and enhances the current mandatory committee structure to include a Parent Advisory Committee, in addition to the Peer Review Committee and Statewide Monitoring Review Board, to increase family input, monitoring, and protections. This Act creates a 3 year pilot program that revises the concept of DAP toward a system in which the statewide Director will work in collaboration with a team of experts to provide technical assistance and training to districts and educational entities. It allows for and provides adequate resources for all students with ASD in Delaware by eliminating the distinction between DAP-approved programs and other in-district options and by providing in-state experts at a lower cost than out-of-state residential treatment and consultants. The pilot program created under this Act makes changes that recognize and support the need for specialized technical assistance and training staff to be available to build capacity for teachers in all districts and other programs educating students with ASD. These changes expand available supports so that excellent, evidence-based training and technical assistance can be made available to all Delaware schools and the students who attend them. The pilot program created under this Act establishes a technical assistance team of educational autism specialists numbering a ratio of 1 for every 100 students (currently estimated at 15 positions). The fiscal mechanism to support the pilot program will be accomplished through mandated district participation that is consistent with the current needs-based funding system in Delaware and by redirecting state spending towards lower cost, community-based supports from out-of-state residential placements. The number of training specialists will be phased in over several years or until the pilot program ends. Finally, this Act is known as “The Alex Eldreth Autism Education Law” in memory Alex Eldreth, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2017, and his dedication to this work.