by Colleen Flaherty
Yesterday, legislators from both parties introduced a bill that would live up to a promise made almost 40 years ago to American students with special needs.
The bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act, strongly supported by NEA, hearkens back to the original Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1975. At the time, the federal government committed to pay 40 percent of the average per pupil expenditure for special education in order to provide opportunity for every child with disabilities.
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However, in the 39 years since the Act has been passed, the pledge has never been met. Thanks to years of federal education spending cuts, the current funding sits at just 15.3 percent. The bipartisan legislation would require regular increases in IDEA spending to finally meet the commitment Congress made decades ago.
“I can see where my young students are headed without the right services and the right amount of services,” said Laurie Giddings, a Washington state special education teacher who works with students with developmental disabilities from preschool to age 21.
Even with proposed federal education spending increases from the White House, IDEA has fallen short due to devastating budget cuts and a growing student population, leaving many special education programs underfunded and forcing states and local school districts to have to make up for the massive federal shortfall.
“I have often wondered how much more we could do if IDEA were ever fully funded. Somehow, the will of a few has made it possible to meet some needs, but it has never been enough. I am saddened nearly every day when I see how much more we ought to be doing in special education,” said Giddings. “We can do better than this.”
The act garnered support from Democrats and Republicans; the bill’s lead sponsors are Congressmen Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), David McKinley (R-WV), Tim Walz (D-MN), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Dave Reichert (R-WA).
“We are proud to introduce the IDEA Full Funding Act today to ensure that the federal government pays its fair share of the costs of educating students with disabilities. For too long, Congress has failed to meet its commitment to our students and teachers, straining local resources as school districts work to meet the needs of special education,” said the congressmen in a joint statement.
“This legislation will guarantee funding increases for IDEA to ensure that our schools have the resources to provide a first-class education for every child.”