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What does it mean to fully fund IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is our country’s special education law. Passed in 1975 (and originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act), it opened the door for disabled children to receive a proper education. Because of IDEA, schools must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for disabled students from birth until high school graduation (or age 21).

If you’re a proponent of inclusive education, then you already know that IDEA isn’t perfect and that many children with disabilities are still being segregated in disability-specific classrooms for their entire day instead of having access to the general education curriculum in classrooms with their nondisabled peers. But there’s another issue with IDEA that needs to be discussed: funding.

In the special education sphere, you may have heard people demanding that IDEA be fully funded but you may not actually know what that means. To put it simply, when the law was first passed, Congress promised that the federal share would cover 40% of the cost of special education services. However, they have never come close to covering this percentage. In reality, the federal contribution is currently around 14%, so people are calling on Congress to live up to their promise of funding 40%.

But why do people want IDEA to be fully funded?

Well, that’s pretty easy to understand too. If you’ve watched “Abbott Elementary” or are a teacher who works in a public school, then you probably have a pretty good idea of how underfunded and understaffed many of our schools are. There are schools across the country that struggle to provide basic supplies for their students. Plus, teacher turnover rates are at an all-time high due to the struggles teachers face in their jobs being exacerbated by the pandemic.

Without proper federal funding for special education services, our school districts are left to pick up the slack, which is one of the reasons why IDEA is not being fully realized.

This past week, on April 28, 2022, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to defend the Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal, mentioning IDEA. He has been calling for increased funding for IDEA, hoping to make meaningful, positive change in our schools.

Fully funding IDEA will hopefully help produce better outcomes for each and every student. You can help make a difference by taking action and letting your representatives know that this issue is important to you.


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Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.

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