What Happened During the States’ Legislative Sessions?
It was a busy year for state legislative sessions, and for some states it’s not over! Each year, the different states’ legislators meet to vote on bills that can become laws. For most states, the sessions take place for a set amount of time beginning in January and ending at the end of June, while a few states meet year-round. A lot of exciting bills were passed in 2023, and many of these bills were a result of the work you, the constituents, do advocating for legislative support of inclusive postsecondary education. So, what happened this year?
Florida and Georgia both successfully increased the amount of scholarship dollars available for students with intellectual disabilities pursuing postsecondary education. In Florida, the amount for eligible students increased from a maximum of $7,000 to a maximum of $15,000. In Georgia, a 5-year pilot of a state-funded scholarship was created, giving a total of $955,830 to the scholarship fund in 2024.
Minnesota passed a law that established the Inclusive Higher Education Technical Assistance Center. The Center will be responsible for serving programs in the state and increase access to postsecondary education options for students with intellectual disabilities. The state assigned $1,000,000/year in the fiscal years of 2024 and 2025. North Carolina’s appropriations bill increases the number of programs and funding to community colleges. There is also the mandate of annual reports from programs included in this bill. Those reports are often used as data points for future advocating. This portion of the appropriations bill is expected to pass but has not had a final vote.
Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York, and Texas had bills introduced that ultimately did not pass. Sometimes, we will see a bill that does not pass one year may be rewritten, reintroduced, and pass in the future. Minnesota is a great example of that happening. The bill that passed this year was originally introduced in 2022. It is important to keep momentum going even when a bill is not successful that year.
Think College publishes a chart each year that details every piece of legislation that was introduced, whether it passed or not. That chart and others about legislation and funding related to inclusive postsecondary education can be found in our resource library and on the What's Happening in Your State page on the Think College website.
What Can You Do?
The lawmakers that are passing or not passing these bills are voted on by you, the constituents. If you are not registered to vote yet, you can do that at website like www.vote.org. September 11-15 is actually Disability Voting Rights week! Visit the REV UP Voting Campaign website to learn more about . Make sure you know who the representatives are in your district and state. Your local elected officials are also important in the pursuit of legislative support for inclusive postsecondary education. These local elected officials often are invested in what is happening in their town/area and may be able to help you connect with state elected officials.
It is important to let elected officials know what is happening in their state and districts. You can do this a few different ways. You can write letters, call their offices, invite them to visit campus, or to attend special program events. If these lawmakers do not know what is happening around inclusive postsecondary education, they will not know how to support the programs and students. Some programs create what we call “one-page leave behinds.” This is a one-page document that highlights your program, especially the rates of employment, growth of the program, and program impacts. Social media is another great way to connect with the legislators and their offices.
Even though most state legislative sessions may be not active right now, these lawmakers are already beginning to think about what is ahead and planning for next year’s session. This is a great time to connect with them and begin building relationships. Remember, you are the expert! Your story is valuable, and no one can tell it like you.
About the post author: Caroline Jurisich works with the policy team at Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD). Caroline's favorite part of working in this field is seeing positive changes to policies and legislation in real time, working with students, and sharing with others on the importance of inclusion.