Education Funding and Budget

Bipartisan IDEA bill seeks to stop shortchanging special needs students

By Amanda Litvinov

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Before the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, U.S. schools educated only one of every five children with disabilities. Some states even had laws that specifically denied education to children who had physical or developmental disabilities.

Today, the majority of children with disabilities are educated in their neighborhood public schools in the general classroom. Their high school graduation rates, college enrollment, and job opportunities increased dramatically; employment rates for youth served under IDEA are twice those of older adults with similar disabilities who did not have the benefit of IDEA.

But for all the law has accomplished for the students it serves—which is now about 13 percent of all enrolled students—the federal government’s failure to meet its funding obligation has wreaked havoc on state and local budgets and at times left districts scrambling to meet student needs.

A bipartisan bill introduced last week would put an end to the chronic underfunding, and over time fulfill the pledge Congress made to cover 40% of the average cost to educate children with disabilities. In the 40 years since the passage of IDEA, the federal government has never met even half of that commitment.

“Politicians love to say in campaigns and speeches that ‘children are our future,’” said Sarah Lambert, a special education teacher in Illinois. “But if we are depriving so many kids of the full range of services and one-on-one time with educators they need to fulfill their full potential, what does that say for our country’s future?”

Currently, the federal share of funding for special education services to approximately 6.9 million students is at about 16 percent. As a result, costs are shifted to the states, forcing school districts to either raise taxes or dip into general education budgets and cut other critical services to make up for the shortfall.

The federal cost shift to states in 2014 alone was $17.6 billion (based on data from the U.S. Department of Education Budget Service and the Congressional Research Service).

In January, the IDEA Full Funding Act was reintroduced by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), David McKinley (R-WV), Tim Walz (D-MN), Chris Gibson (R-NY), and Dave Reichert (R-WA). The bill proposes regular increases in IDEA spending that would result in full funding by 2025.

The federal government contributing its full share would be “a huge step forward for our entire education system,” said Michele Proctor, who teaches special needs middle-schoolers in Maryland.

“It would give us the best possibility to get the right placements, the right services, smaller classes, and more one-on-one time,” Proctor said. “And we know those are the things that make a difference for our kids.”

“Four decades is far too long for states and local schools to wait for the funding that was promised them when Congress enacted IDEA,” says NEA federal advocacy director Mary Kusler.  “We strongly support the bipartisan effort to meet the noble goal of fully funding IDEA.”

Tell Congress it’s time to pass the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act. Send an email today!

4 responses to “Bipartisan IDEA bill seeks to stop shortchanging special needs students

  1. I retired as a Special Education Teacher in 2012. However,for the last 12 to 15 years, I have toiled through the NEA and CTA to move legislation to fully fund IDEA. I may be one of the few to actually read the Re-authorization legislation of IDEA from 2004. So, I need to clear up some miss conceptions and miss-information before we continue to talk about the fight to “Fully Fund” IDEA.

    First, it should be of note that the 40% funding of the total cost of IDEA is a ‘MYTH!” The concept was used to make sure the mandated services were created. Congress never intended to fully fund IDEA.

    The original funding level was set to fund “UP-TO” 40% of the “INCREASED” statutory cost not of the “TOTAL” costs. The statutory cost was considered to be twice that of one mainstreamed student’s ADA funding or 2 ADA. (Note: The record shows that this falls short of the true total cost of about 2 1/3 to 2 1/2 ADA.) Mathematically this works out to be “40% of only 1 ADA” or “20%” of the total ‘Statutory’ funding of 2 ADA, not the 40% of the total actual cost that is commonly assumed by the general public.

    Secondly, the legislation was written by some very crafty lawyers. They attempted to make it look like the 40% funding figure was a promised level of funding. NOT SO! They used loose language like Congress “CAN” fund “UP-TO”, not Congress “WILL” fund!

    Thirdly, the same crafty lawyer language was used in the 2004 Re-authorization to get it passed. Along with a projected increase schedule which if funded over 10 years would have brought the increased funding level a ‘40% level’ of the “INCREASED” cost of 1 ADA, The authors then slipped in the words, ‘Congress “MAY” appropriate these new funding levels'(Not SHALL and they never have.) And for the second time, they passed the IDEA legislation perpetuating the 40% Myth.

    It too many years and has cost too many hundreds of billions by our states and local school districts for this sham to continue. But I am worried that his new legislation will be more of the same, crafted in the same manner, with the same crafty language designed to demonstrate the appearance Congressional support for ‘Special Needs Children’ and Education, on one hand, while at the same time refusing to put their money where their words are written.

    We must be vigilant and cautious as this new legislation is drafted. Just two little words like “Can fund” or “May appropriate”, could be the ones to kill the promised 40% one more time. And for the record, the new language should clearly state funding “40% OF THE ACTUAL COST!” not the Statutory increase!

    John Farrington
    CTA?NEA Retired
    Salinas, CA

  2. Dear Members of Congress,
    I taught special education for almost 32 years, a job I loved. From the beginning, however, the worst part of my job was frequently learning that services required by law for my severely disabled students, cost the general education students in my district to lose many of theirs. This was terribly unfair to the rest of my district and often pitted general education teachers against special education teachers. I know that this continues today, impacting school programs more severely than ever due to education cuts across this country. Please bring the IDEA up to what was the original intent of the law and stop short-changing all students. I would sincerely appreciate your attention to this issue.

  3. Special needs students have long been getting the short end of the stick. I’ll be sincerely interested in the progress of this “bipartisan” bill, even if it’s so long in coming. It will take some courage in the house and senate, and I must say I’m skeptical when people like Bohner and McConnell are in charge. I retired a year ago after 42 years in classrooms, working with the most wonderful people on earth, our children. (21 years in regular ed classrooms, and 21 in special needs classrooms.) Please make some regular comments regarding this bills progress. Thank you, keep up the good work.

  4. Special needs students need to go back to teaching they way each can learn not in regular education rooms and on grade level

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