Full Funding of the IDEA: It Could Happen this Year!!

            In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) became law. The law, which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, promised financial incentives to states that submitted plans to provide educational services to eligible students with disabilities in accordance with the terms of the EAHCA. The funds would flow through the federal government to the state educational agency (SEA) and then to local school districts (also referred to as local educational agencies or LEAs).  All 50 SEAs eventually submitted plans and received federal funding for providing special education services.

Originally, Congress agreed to pay 40% of a state’s excess costs in educating students with disabilities under the EAHCA. Thus, the federal government promised to pay close to ½ of the additional costs incurred by the states for providing special education services to students with disabilities when compared to the costs of providing educational services to students without disabilities. The 40% figure is often referred to as full funding. 

Although federal funding of special education is substantial, the percentage of federal funding has hovered around 14%, rather than the originally promised 40%, since the passage of the EAHCA in 1975. This funding shortfall was approximately $24 billion in 2020, an amount that has been picked up by states and local school districts. If the IDEA was fully funded the amount that SEA and LEAs would receive would be substantially increased. A pdf of the amount of estimated amount of federal funding that each state would receive (determined by the National Education Association) if the law were to be fully funded can be found here. (http://ideamoneywatch.com/docs/IDEA.Funding.Gap.by.State.FY2020.pdf).  

To address this problem, bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to require the federal government to fully fund the IDEA by providing the promised 40% of states excess costs. Such bills have never been enacted. This year could be different!

Full funding bills have been introduced in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. These bills would put IDEA funding on a 10-year glide path to full funding. These bills could be passed and signed into law if folks let their Representative in the House and Senator know they support these measures. To make this process very easy the Council for Exceptional Children maintains a Legislative Action Center that has prewritten letters that will be emailed to your Representative in the House and Senator (when you put in your home address your Representatives and Senators will be identified and sent the email). The website can be found at https://exceptionalchildren.org/takeaction and is titled “Support special education funding in FY 2022.  Students with disabilities need your help, so take action!

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