Happy Birthday IDEA

In November the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) turned 45. After nearly half a century, many are hoping to celebrate this legislative milestone with full funding next year for the federal law that guarantees children with learning and other disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE),

If you have a child with diagnosed disabilities according to the criteria specified by the IDEA, you’re likely familiar with this legislation. It’s the law that provides for your child’s school team to develop an Individual Education Plan requiring services to meet your child’s needs.

But what you may not realize is that for most of the 45 years that the IDEA has been in existence, it’s been funded at levels far below the 40% lawmakers intended when the legislation was enacted. According to Money Watch, current funding is at a mere 13%. According to an article in K-12 Drive less than full funding is the norm:

Over the past four decades, the federal government has not come close to meeting the 40% funding promise for the country’s 7 million IDEA-eligible students, except for one year — in 2009, when stimulus money from the Great Recession gave IDEA a temporary boost to 33%. Reaching IDEA full funding would increase the federal contribution from about $13 billion to more than $43 billion, according to recent legislation.

The result is that regardless of how many children are diagnosed with learning or other disabilities, local districts must perform budget wizardry to attempt to ensure that their needs are met. Turning students away for lack of funds is not an option; compromises must often be made.

Hope On the Horizon

With schools financially strapped even more than usual due to COVID-19 demands, many in the disabilities community are looking for the Biden administration to make good on the promise for fully funding the IDEA. There’s growing optimism on Capital Hill that 2021 could be the year that happens.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who has introduced legislation to fully fund the IDEA every session since 2002 says,

I think it’s important that the federal government keeps its promises, and especially promises we’re making for the education of our country’s children. Right now we have so many schools that are just trying to make ends meet and do not have the resources to provide the kind of special education that our children deserve.

He and others are counting on the 117th Congress to implement the promise made 45 years ago when the IDEA became federal law.

Stay tuned.