Deaf education, as we all know, is crowded with many (and sometimes conflicting) organizations, perspectives, ideas and issues. These range from bi-lingual/bi-cultural educational methods to the oral method, with cochlear implants utilized among many other approaches. A new bill that has been submitted into Congress, called the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, plans to change this landscape. Representative Matt Cartwright, from the 17th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, is the main sponsor. There are also 11 co-sponsors of this bill at this time, such as Representative Mark Takano and Representative Steve Stockman.
What does the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act entail? According to Handspeak.com, “The objective of this bill is to amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to “promote and better ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Specifically, this bill focuses on meeting deaf students’ language, communication and accessibility needs.”
This act plans to face the issue of deficient education for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as the blind. The Act was summarized by the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD): “To promote and better ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing through specialized instructional services and methodologies designed to meet their unique language, communication, and learning needs; to better ensure delivery of high quality early intervention services to infants and toddlers who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families through specialized services and methodologies designed to meet their unique language, communication, and other developmental needs; to enhance accountability for the provision of such services; to support the development of personnel serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing; and for other purposes.”
In this sense, the act aims to be a significant catalyst for reforming, refocusing, retooling, and retraining education. One key aspect of this Act from Congress.gov is that it “directs the Secretary of Education, within one year of this Act’s enactment and periodically thereafter, to review, update, and publish policy guidance concerning the provision of special education and related services to students who are visually disabled or who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
This line is key- it allows the Department of Education to continually update and refine Deaf education on an ongoing basis, especially when new research is conducted. This aspect of the Act could be a boon for the bilingual and bicultural method of education. It could also allow Gallaudet and the Clerc Center to play a more pivotal role in shaping Deaf education, because both parties conduct a lot of research in this field. The issue is that the important, pivotal research tends to not go anywhere, and does not effect change.
As of right now, the act is in the House of Representatives, referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Congressman Mike Honda, from the 17th District of California, when asked for his perspective on the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act on Twitter, said this: “[The] #Deaf deserve [the] same chance for education, [which] is why I signed on to cosponsor HR 4040. Students need teachers trained for their needs.” Honda, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, has a reputation of being a staunch advocate for education. He has been an educator, principal, and school board member for 30 years in San Jose before making the jump to politics.
Another San Francisco Bay Area politician, Zoe Lofgren, also had this to say when this reporter asked her about her potential support: “…this bill promotes early identification, by improving the identification, assessment and intervention for these students. You will be happy to know that, thanks in part to your advocacy, I have decided to cosponsor H.R. 4040. This bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. While I am not a member of this committee, I would expect to support the bill should it be brought to the House floor for a vote.”
So, what’s next? The way the system works is this: an act or bill begins in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, gets referred to a committee for discussion and refinement. After the act has been worked on to everyone’s satisfaction, it is brought to the floor for a vote. If the act passes, it is sent to the opposite house in Congress, and voted on. The act is now passed by Congress, and then is sent to the office of the president. The president has the power to veto, pocket veto, or sign the act into law.
Having two key and powerful Democratic members from the same area co-sponsoring in the House of Representatives can be a major factor in having this bill pass. The majority in the House of Representatives is held by the Republican Party, which means that there is a possibility of the bill not passing Congress due to partisan bickering and infighting.