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It is a disservice to the families who sacrifice so much already for their children to be denied special education services and supports to which they are entitled by federal law” Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) President and CEO, Dr. Rebecca Porter, stated during a House Armed Services (HASC) subcommittee hearing on the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP).  Dr. Porter testified Wednesday alongside four other military family advocates.  

Dr. Porter’s statement echoed the testimony parents shared during the hearing as “profound and gut-wrenching” descriptions of poor education services and violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) were shared with the HASC subcommittee. “Families should not have to advocate for themselves when the law is on their side.” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. said.  Speier, a special needs parent herself vowed “we are going to fix this, this year” reiterating “services violate both law and DoD policy when they fail to ensure families receive the support required under EFMP.”

Two military spouses, Michelle Norman (Navy) and Austin Carrigg (Army) testified to the gaps and inconsistencies within the EFM program and advocated for standardization across all the military service branches to include embedded special education attorneys.  Dr. Porter clarified this is not a position to be merely staffed by JAG.

During the hearing, Dr. Porter insightfully summarized: “What is especially difficult for these families is the fact that, even if they are able to eventually get some modicum of appropriate support for their children with special needs, it might be just as their service member receives orders to move, and the process starts all over again in a new state with a new school district, and new special education processes and resources.  The interruption in services and instruction and the prolonged period to reestablish an appropriate individualized education plan take precious time, during which children with special needs often regress and ultimately require even more support.  This paradigm compounded over multiple PCS cycles adds up to years of lost learning and development.”

The HASC hearing on EFMP comes on the heels of the Congressional Military Family Caucus Summit held at Fort Benning, GA last fall in which special education for military-connected students took center stage as an important topic gaining needed attention among congressional leaders.  

MCEC is committed to championing the pathway forward for military-connected students in special education by advocating for inclusive, quality educational opportunities. 

MCEC recommendations include:

  • That Congress direct the GAO to study and report on the parents’, civilian and military, success rates in achieving education for their child with special needs through special education advocates, state complaints, mediation and due process.
  • That Congress direct the Department of Education to collect the relevant data and publically report the number of special education complaints filed by military parents and what the outcomes were.
  • That Congress direct the Department of Defense to provide special education attorneys across all the services to work in collaboration with EFMP liaisons, coordinators and case managers for each EFMP family.
  • That Congress direct the Department of Defense to provide an annual report to Congress on special education challenges facing military children, including due process filings and state complaints for the previous fiscal year, the results of any EFMP or special education surveys, and actions DoD is taking to assist military families with special education issues.

GAO Summary: DOD Has Made Limited Progress toward Improving Oversight of the EFMP

Watch House Armed Services Committee Hearing Video

Michelle Norman Written Testimony with Appendices

The views and opinions expressed in the supporting documents posted here do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Military Child Education Coalition.