Whether we have a separate bill or it is attached to other legislation, lawmakers need to make fixing Act 66 their priority....
We are so excited to now have bills in the house (HB 2674) and in the Senate (SB 1276) that can help to fix Act 66. Both would offer another year to our most vulnerable youths; 21 year-olds with IEPs who are aging out this school year and for whom there is no more time to make up progress lost to COVID. But there are still other actions that our lawmakers might consider, and other options we could put before them.
HB 2674 offers an extra year those aging out in June 2022
House Bill 2674 adopts virtually the same language included in Act 66 last year to grant an extra year of public school to those about to age out
It allows those aging out this year to stay in public school until the end of the school year in which they turn 22 years of age (e.g., until June 2022).
It requires that all provisions and protections of the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) remain in place.
It requires that the parents elect the extra year by July 15th
This bill is sponsored by Representative Ortitay, and originally co-sponsored by Representatives Shusterman and Hennessey. But after conversations with us, Representatives Mercuri, Otten, and both Craig and Dan Williams have joined as sponsors.
At this point, HB 2674 has yet to be voted out of the House Education Committee. As a member of the House Education Committee, Representatives Ortitay and Mercuri are both members of this Committee and so could be positioned to help advance it.
SB 1276 offers an extra year those aging out between June 2022 and June 2025
Senate Bill 1276 offers same options as HB 2674, except that it includes not only those turning 21 and aging out at the end of the 2021-22 school year, but extends this to any student who turned 18-, 19-, or 20 years of age during the 2021-22 school year. We have suggested a modification such that 18-, 19-, or 20 years of age would elect the extra year about 7 months (e.g. by November 15th) before the end of the school year during which they age out.
We support both the House and the Senate bills. Both recognize that this is the last chance to help this year's graduates. We would LOVE to see the benefit extended to future graduates, who we strongly believe will find it very hard to catch up. But we also understand why some legislators may struggle with concerns about cost (especially once federal pandemic relief funding ends in September 2024). We also recognize that there may be other opportunities to advocate for the needs of future graduates.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Aument. Notably, it is co-sponsored by the primary sponsor of Act 66, Senator Corman (President of the Senate) and some of its original co-sponsors in Senators Martin, Mensch, and Scavello (Senator Baker is also a sponsor) . We think that this is compelling - who better to attest to the need to extend Act 66 than its original sponsors! SB 1276's sponsors include members of the Senate Education Committee (Senators Aument, Corman, and Martin) and the Appropriations Committee (Senators Aument, Corman, Martin, and Mensch), but it has yet to be voted out of the Senate Education Committee.
Including the necessary language in an omnibus bill
Throughout this process, everyone has impressed upon us the complexities of getting a specific bill passed... it must clear at least one committee in one chamber, and then withstand amendments before being being voted on in one chamber and then in the other. It has rise up above other competing legislation, it cannot be flagged because of cost concerns, and it needs to become enough of a priority that it is not lost in the inevitable horse-trading between chambers, parties, and individual lawmakers. And it needs a champion willing to shepherd it through this process.
But certain kinds of legislation can also be passed by attaching it to another bill. For example, there are broad education and appropriations bills passed each year that can incorporate legislative changes that are relatively simple... like extending Act 66 for one or more years. A small group of legislative leaders are responsible for filtering through countless request to decide what is finally to be included in these "omnibus" bills. We understand that these discussions have, for some time, referenced the need to fix Act 66. We suspect that, despite the dedication of the great sponsors of the individual bills in the House and Senate , that this is the only remaining path to passage.
Regarding of the path, legislators need to hear from you NOW
Regardless of the path, legislators must hear from you NOW. In the final days before the annual budget is voted upon, it is easy for a relatively small piece of legislation like ours to get lost. Our legislators have started to act - now it is YOUR turn to make sure this is a priority. Click here to find your legislator, their email address and phone number, and sample text you can cut and paste.
We have spoken with more than two dozen legislators or their staff - legislators want to hear how COVID impacted you. But legislative action MUST be taken by June 30th if we do not want to leave this year's graduates behind... forever.