Funding Doesn’t Have to Be a Barrier to Inclusive Education

Updated: Jun 22

One of the most common reasons people give as a barrier to inclusive education is funding. And it makes sense, right? If we want a genuinely inclusive education for our students, we have to pay for it. Except funding doesn’t have to be a barrier. 

Inclusive education is about changing an educational system to be flexible enough to serve its students, rather than merely throwing money or staffing at an already burdened system.

According to TASH’s resource, “Dispelling the Myths of Inclusive Education,” the cost of inclusive education can best be viewed as a “cost-benefit analysis.” And there have been no fiscal analyses that show inclusion is more expensive than segregation. School districts may even make more efficient use of their money when they educate all their students with disabilities within their home districts, rather than funding transportation, overhead, and other non-instructional costs of out-of-district programs. When the benefits of inclusive education balance out the adverse effects of segregation, the cost-benefit ratio is clearly on the side of inclusive education.

School districts like West Linn-Wilsonville near Portland, Oregon, and Cecil County in Maryland know that the only way to sustain inclusive schools is with a phased approach rather than attempting to remove the infrastructure without thoughtfully planning for systems change.

In an article from the AASA, The School Superintendents Association blog called “The Only Way to Fly is Inclusively,” administrators Carl Roberts and Carolyn Teigland explain that their vision was to “successfully include 100 percent of special education students in the regular education setting to the fullest extent possible.” And that all students would “receive the services they require in their neighborhood school, allowing them to attend school with their age-appropriate peers.” Cecil County’s inclusive journey began in the early 2000s, while West Linn-Wilsonville started nearly a decade ago, and both continue through today.

While administrators concede that the initial investment in training staff and sustaining inclusive practices can be expensive, it levels out and does not compound itself. For instance, from FY2008 to FY2017, the special education budget from Cecil County remained mostly stable with a 12% increase, while national education funding per pupil increased by 15% during the same period. 

While state and local education systems provide the bulk of funding for school districts, the federal government provides about one-third of the special education cost it originally promised. Here is a little history of how the federal government got involved with providing any funding at all.

Before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), lawmakers included students with disabilities in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA / Title I) funding in 1965 because students were considered “educationally deprived” and, therefore, eligible for compensatory education. This, of course, was before the guarantee for students with disabilities to receive a “free and appropriate education.” Later, in 1966, Title VI of the ESEA separately authorized states’ funding to educate students with disabilities.

In 1970, the ESEA Amendments (P.L. 91-230) repealed Title VI and created a separate law, the Education o